Rouhani's Visit to Moscow
Recently, there has been a lot of debates about a retreat in Russian Iranian relations, because of different views about how to normalize the situation in Syria after cease-fire agreement, and Russia's direction to cooperate with Turkey for this purpose, the thing which considered by some affecting negatively at coordination with Iran, which still insists in exist of Bashar Al-Assad in any political settlement of the Syrian situation, while working on continued influence of pro-government groups there.
But despite this, the scene shows continued cooperation between two states on multiple levels, culminated by Iranian President visit to Moscow on March 27, 2017, over two days, in response to Russian president invitation to him, in a meeting was the ninth between them during the past four years, and where a number of bilateral cooperation agreements were signed, especially in the economic field, amidst also speaking about political cooperation and coordination regarding in files of Middle East.
Determinants of Rapprochement between Russia and Iran
The remarkable visit of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Russia highlighted the motives and objectives of continued coordination and cooperation between Russia and Iran, which could be explained by the following determinants and factors:
1. Despite the dispute over how to normalize Syrian situation, we can't ignored that Russia and Iran are supporting together Syrian regime forces, and they contributed in helping Syrian army progress on several fronts, especially in restoring control of "Halap" city entirely in December 2016, which significantly upset the balance of power in favor of Al-Assad regime.
2. As a proof of continuing cooperation in Syrian file, Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif, confirmed during Rouhani's visit to Moscow, that the latter could use Iranian military bases to carry out air strikes against militants in Syria. And before that in summer 2016, Russian fighter jets used "Hamdan" air base in Iran to carry out attacks against targets in Syria, and that was the first time to a foreign force to use an Iranian base since World War II.
3. In addition to Syrian file, the tense relationship between two countries and the west created a rapprochement between them, and even if the relations between Moscow and Washington improved relatively after Donald Trump took power in the United States, but the reality didn't show any distinctive cooperation between them at any level, neither in Syria nor anywhere else, as US sanctions against Iran continues, with Trump administration adopting tougher positions toward it.
4. There are also speaking about decline in relations between Russia and Turkey after relative improvement, because of Moscow's support for Syrian Kurds, and often the talks of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with Russian president Vladimir Tuten, during his visit to Moscow on March 10, 2017, didn't end with a high degree of success, because the dispute about the Syrian Kurds which are fighting alongside Bashar Assad.
5. In addition to importance of security coordination and parameters of political cooperation, Russia and Iran also have growing economic relations in more than one area. The relations between two countries had witnessed a qualitative boom after the increase in trade volume in 2016 about 80% compared to previous year, reaching $2 billion and $200 million, as well as approval of establishment free trade zone between Iran and Eurasia Union, and the success of oil agreement about return of Iranian share in oil production to the pre-embargo.
Rouhani's Visit to Moscow and Strengthening of Bilateral Relations
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who accompanied Rouhani on his visit to Moscow, explained that the visit aimed to strengthen political and economic relations and regional cooperative between Iran and Russia, and expand cooperation in "combating terrorism" field. But we can notice easily from reading the results of Rouhani's visit, its concentrate on bilateral cooperation areas, as the two sides signed 14 cooperation documents in various fields, covering different political, economic, judicial, legal, scientific and cultural fields.
The most remarkable was the announcement by Russian president that Iran would grant 2.2 billion euro loan to finance construction of thermal power plant and several railways in the country, adding that Moscow could deliver to Tehran civilian aircraft of new medium-range "Sukhoi Suprajit 100", as well as helicopters for health services in the country. The Russian "Sukhoi Superjet 100" was designed to carry up to 98 passengers at a distance of about 4,400 km, and the plane made its maiden flight in May 2008 and was launched for commercial operation in 2011.
In addition, Russia and Iran signed understanding memorandum to equip a joint plant to assemble light Russian "K-226" helicopters. In common, there are more than 50 Russian-made helicopters in Iran, "M-17" helicopter is the most widely accepted and used in Iran for law enforcement and anti-organized crime purposes.
Among agreements signed during Rouhani's visit to Russia, was the signing of "Rusatom" company and "Iran's Atomic Energy Organization" an agreement in atomic materials transfer field, with announcing that Moscow would build second and third units of "Bushehr" atomic power station.
And perhaps the most important is cooperation between Russia and Iran in oil and gas field, especially with signing understanding memorandum between "Gazprom" Russian company Energy and "Iranian National Oil Company" to transport natural gas, in addition to understanding memorandum between "Russian State Geological Company" and "Iranian National Oil Company" for cooperation in oil exploration field, and understanding memorandum between Ministries of Energy in both states to cooperate in field of electric power trade.
It is worth mentioning that President Rouhani had previously stressed that Tehran welcomes Russian investments within Iranian energy sector, and his country looks forward to further fruitful cooperation between two countries, pointing that there is huge potential for investment, and some oil and gas fields offered to Russian companies for investment, talking about development cooperation within the field of energy, including the field of peaceful nuclear energy.
It seems clear in context of results of President Rouhani's visit to Russia, and its focus on economic dimensions and bilateral relations, the capacity of Iran and Russia in dealing pragmatically with some points of disagreement about political issues in Middle East, especially the Syrian issue, although cooperation toward this field is still ongoing as indicated previously.
The differences are not only related to mismatch of views to normalize the situation on Syrian arena, but there are other difficulties facing Russia in terms of coordination between Iran, Israel and Turkey on this arena. Israel in particular has great concerns and reservations about Iranian presence in Syria, and wants guarantees that Iranian combat troops in Syria will leave after the end of war.
It is no accident that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on his recent visit to Moscow on March 9, 2017, tried to persuade President Putin to exert influence over the Iranians to stop supplying their Shiite allies in Syria "Hezbollah" with sophisticated weapons. Otherwise, Israelis wouldn't be able to maintain neutrality In the Syrian conflict. It is clear here that Netanyahu's talk wasn't just about arming "Hezbollah", but he probably asked Putin to working for limit Iranian support for it.