Rouhani to visit Putin in Moscow as Iran and Russia move closer
As U.S. influence wanes across the Middle East, Iran and Russia have joined forces to expand their power in the region, strengthening political and diplomatic ties and stepping up joint military operations in Syria.
In a sign of the closer relations, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is slated to travel Monday to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is expected to be Rouhani’s last major trip before he faces reelection in May.
Together, the two countries have fought Syrian rebels, sidelined the United States from regional diplomacy and embraced each other as bulwarks against the West.
In a meeting Tuesday, Putin and Rouhani are scheduled officially to discuss projects in areas such as energy, infrastructure and technology. Unofficially, however, the talks are likely to be dominated by their tacit alliance in the Middle East.
“The visit shows the importance that Russia has in Iranian foreign policy. For Russia, Iran is one of their most important political allies,” said Mohsen Milani, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies at the University of South Florida.
Iran is “playing a key role in Putin’s longer-term strategy to become a major player in the Middle East,” said Milani, who is also the author of “ The Making of Iran’s Islamic Revolution: From Monarchy to Islamic Republic .”
But Iran and Russia, which compete with each other in global energy markets and have publicly sparred over stalled weapons deals, were never traditional allies. For decades, they have been wary of the other’s intentions, and leaders on both sides remain cautious of the growing ties.
Still, the level and scale of the cooperation — including Russia’s use of an Iranian air base for Syrian operations last fall — has been unprecedented, analysts say. The partnership has been driven by the two countries’ shared goals in Syria, where a rebellion has threatened Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of both Iran and Russia.
“Since the Russians got more heavily involved in Syria, the relationship between Moscow and Tehran has entered a new phase,” said Ellie Geranmayeh, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
When Syria’s revolt began in 2011, the country was host to Russia’s only military base in the Middle East. And for Iran, Syria provided a stable land corridor through which to send arms and cash to the Lebanese Hezbollah.
As the Obama administration weighed intervention to support Syria’s rebels, Iran and Russia stepped up with weapons and manpower to back the regime. Russia provided air cover for Iranian military advisers and proxy forces on the ground. The coordination ended up defeating the rebels in Aleppo — empowering Iran and Russia, along with Turkey, to set up parallel peace talks that cut out the United States.
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