Moscow and Tehran's authoritarian governments share a clash with the West, as well as foreign isolation and domestic instability.
In Kyiv, Ukraine, a drone thought to be an Iranian Shahed-136 is getting closer to its target.
The most conclusive evidence yet that Tehran has developed into a rare, growingly intimate partner of the Kremlin, providing both weaponry and the international support that Russia badly lacks, came from the Iranian-made drones that Russia launched on Monday to divebomb the capital of Ukraine.
Between Iran, one of the world's most strategically isolated countries for decades, and Russia, who recently became a pariah for bombing another nation, there is no real affection. But despite both resenting Western sanctions, the two authoritarian regimes see the United States as their greatest foe and a threat to their hold on power.
“This is a partnership of convenience between two embattled dictatorships,” Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said.
Both nations are experiencing severe economic and political crises. Iran is striving to put an end to street demonstrations that represent the government's most serious challenge in years, while Russia is struggling to control growing unrest over a failing war effort and an unpopular draft.
The formation of a Moscow-Tehran alliance might harm the possibilities for a new nuclear agreement to restrain Iran and put more pressure on Israel, Iran's avowed nemesis, to support Ukraine in the conflict.
Iran and Russia have a long history of diplomatic relations. Starting in 2015, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin sent his air force to Syria to keep President Bashar al-Assad, a longstanding friend of Tehran, in power. Russian airplanes covered Iranian militiamen and Iranian proxy forces fighting on the ground as Russia and Iran coordinated their military efforts.
Syria served as one illustration of both sides' attempts to undermine American power and reputation wherever they could, and Ukraine offers a comparable chance on a bigger, more obvious scale.
Iran developed its foreign policy following its 1979 revolution under the guiding principle of "Neither East Nor West," being equally suspicious of the Soviet Union and the United States. According to commentators, the Islamic Republic is currently picking sides, and pictures of Iran's drones detonating after precisely hitting their targets promote it as a regional power to be taken seriously.
Even as social media sites connected to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which built the clumsy but deadly drones, boasted about them, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman in Tehran denied on Monday that his nation was selling weapons to Russia.
“There is no doubt that the drones used by Russia’s military are Iranian,” the country's cybercrime chief, Ali Akbar Raefipour, boasted on Twitter that Iran's Shahed drone was now the most talked-about weapon in the world, according to a post on Sepah Cyberi, a Telegram channel connected to the Guards.
According to Mahmoud Shoori, deputy director of the Institute of Iran and Eurasia Studies in Tehran and an authority on relations between Iran and Russia, Iran does not want to draw attention to the weapons sales because the average Iranian generally prefers Ukraine to Russia and the Islamic Republic positions itself as a champion of the weaker nations in international affairs.
In a telephone conversation, he stated that Iran wants to demonstrate to the world that it has a military powerhouse as an ally and that it can sell weapons to such a force. It demonstrates that the West's policy of using the utmost pressure to isolate Iran have failed.
Beyond armaments, the two have reached some consensus on energy issues, including oil and gas. The Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant in Iran has been a focus of Russia's work for decades, but significant delays and billion-dollar cost overruns have soured ties.
According to Western analysts, Russian forces are running low on precision-guided ballistic and cruise missiles. As a result, the war has flipped the usual trend of major powers selling weapons to smaller ones. Moscow has turned to Iran because it is unable to purchase weapons elsewhere perhaps except for North Korea.
The drones are simpler to take down than such missiles since they are slower and carry smaller payloads. However, because they are significantly less expensive, Russia may launch them in large numbers, overpowering air defenses and allowing some of them to hit their intended objectives.
“They can be used by Russia to target electricity, fuel, et cetera, and to attempt to economically exhaust Ukraine over time,” said Michael Kofman, director of Russia studies at C.N.A., an Arlington, Virginia-based defense research organization.
Drone attacks on Saudi Arabia and other regional rivals have allegedly been carried out by Iran or its agents.
For Iran, using its drones to communicate with its home audience, which includes those who have been protesting against limitations on women's rights and individual freedom for weeks, is important.
"The government is trying to show Iranians that it is not in a position of weakness, and has not been cowed by external pressure and threats,” stated Ali Vaez, director of the Iran project for the International Crisis Group, a nonpartisan research organization.
According to a report published on Sunday by The Washington Post, Iran would also give Russia short-range ballistic missiles, which are much deadlier than drones. Analysts no longer dismiss Iranian rockets as subpar copies of Soviet or North Korean weapons.
In recent years, Iran has made “lots of advances and has improved their targeting ability,” stated Afshon Ostovar, a Middle Eastern politics associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.
How Saudi Arabia, Iran's main regional foe, will respond to the Kremlin's proximity to Tehran is unclear. To drive up oil prices, the Saudi regime and Moscow recently teamed up, displeasing Washington and boosting inflation.
Nachman Shai, a cabinet minister in Israel, posted on social media on Sunday that Israel's position in this terrible battle was clear in light of Iran's military assistance to Russia. The time has come for Ukraine to receive military assistance on par with that given by the United States and other NATO members.
The office of the Israeli prime minister declined to respond.
Despite many requests from Ukraine for air defense systems since the war began in February, Israel has not sent Ukraine any weapons and has refrained from condemning Russia harshly. Israel has been allowed relatively unrestricted freedom by Russia to attack Iranian targets in Syria, and the Israelis are worried that the Kremlin is preventing Jewish emigration.
The former Russian president and current deputy head of the Security Council Dmitri A. Medvedev issued a social media warning Monday against any careless distribution of Israeli military assistance to Ukraine as a sign of escalating tensions. “It will destroy all interstate relations between our countries,” wrote Mr. Medvedev.
The deepening alliance between Russia and Iran “should be seen as a profound threat and something that any country should pay very close attention to. We’re in close touch with our allies and partners, including those in the United Nations, to address Iran’s dangerous proliferation of weapons to Russia,” said Vedant Patel, a U.S. deputy spokesperson. State Department, at a news conference on Monday.
According to Josep Borrell Fontelles, the head of foreign policy for the European Union, the use of drones is being constantly watched. The group had already been considering additional sanctions against Iran due to its recent deadly crackdown on internal dissent. Ukraine demanded further penalties on Monday.
The sales of drones raised more concerns about the likelihood of a nuclear agreement, in which Western sanctions against Iran would be lifted in exchange for Tehran significantly reducing its ability to enrich the uranium required for nuclear weapons, prompting more doubts about the deal's prospects. President Biden has been eager to negotiate a new agreement since President Donald J. Trump withdrew from the previous 2015 treaty, which included Russia and other major powers.
Given that the agreement will bring back substantial quantities of Iranian oil and gas to the global market, competing with Russian sales and potentially driving prices lower, the Russians are now seen to be the ones who are least excited about the agreement. The willingness of Iran's governing clerics to once again accept restrictions on their nuclear program is also unknown.
Last July, Mr. Putin made a rare overseas trip to fortify his partnership with Iran as a bulwark against his isolation from the West. Since then, both his government and Iran have faced much more difficulties.
“In their view, the West is either irreconcilably hostile or unreliable. I think in this conflict in Ukraine, they see an opportunity for consolidating the relationship with the East as a way of trying to neutralize the pressure they face from the West, be it economic, military, or political,” Vaez of Iran stated.
Neil MacFarquhar, The New York Times, (2022 October 17th). "Drones Embody an Iran-Russia Alliance Built on Hostility to the U.S.": Authoritarian regimes in Moscow and Tehran have in common international isolation, domestic crisis and conflict with the West.