Iran’s Approach to Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Mehmet Koç Senior Expert

The waged war to invade Ukraine by Russia created certain opportunities for Iran on the political and economic field, especially within the security ground.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24 elicited a range of reactions from Iran. The attempted invasion could compose an opportunity for Iran as the Vienna Talks continues to re-establish JCPOA’s commitments between Iran and P4+1 countries. While officials, especially the Presidency and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, are trying to capture a balanced discourse, subtle support has been implemented by emphasizing NATO’s expansionist strategy. Iran also invited parties to the negotiation table to resolute the crisis by considering international law and diplomatic courtesy. 

The milieus connected to the establishment tackle the subject through this approach grasped the invasion as an incident that creates certain advantages upon economic, geopolitical, military, and security grounds. Nationalist milieus embraced a detached approach towards Russia by emphasizing Russia’s former invasions of Iran and its aggressor positioning.

The Formal Declarations and Reactions

Bilateral relations developed since the Revolution among Iran and Russia transitioned into close cooperation on a regional basis in the Middle East, particularly after the Arab Spring. Within this ground, Russia’s ally Tehran made statements intended as an endorsement of the Russian invasion. President Ebrahim Raisi declared, “The NATO expansion poses a crucial threat to stability and security within different regions’ sovereign countries,” besides Hossein Amir-Abdollahian stated, “The NATO provocations led to the Ukrainian crisis, and we don’t hold waging war as a solution. A ceasefire must be implemented, and a diplomatic and political solution must be constituted”. 

Iranian elites underline the mistrust towards Russia by pointing out the Russian invasion of Iran in World War I and World War II and establishing Azerbaijani and Kurdish states within Iran. These milieus recapture Russia’s delayed commitments as feeding on the tension between Iran and the USA and the implemented sanctions. Former IRGC General Hossein Alai stated that Russia severed Caucasians from Iran, supported Saddam Hossein in the Iran-Iraq War, and as a rival to the Iranian energy sector Russia cannot be trusted. The former speaker, deputy Ali Motahhari gave a similar declaration along with Alai and urged the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) to avoid broadcasting that resembles a discourse of a Russian colony.

Is NATO a Geopolitical Threat to Iran?

Under NATO’s open-door policy, admitted former USSR and Warsaw pact members forged the ground which steered to the current crisis. NATO’s members rose to 30 by adding 16 newly accepted members as a part of the strategy. In the 2008 Bucharest summit, the Ukrainian and Georgian application to the NATO membership received a harsh response from Russia. As a part of the mentioned comeback, Russia waged war against Georgia similar to the Ukrainian crisis and recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions as independent states. NATO’s effort to reach out to the Caucasians through Georgia concerned Iranian officials, and Tehran supported Russia subtly by embracing a pacifist approach to Moscow’s Tbilisi policies.

Iran’s Ambassador to Moscow Kazem Jalali stated that both Iran and Russia opposed NATO’s expansion to Iran’s borders. Iran’s experienced former Ambassador to France, Mexico, and Hungary Abulqasem Dalfi, expressed his disapproval on the NATO’s approximation through the Gulf, Hormuz, the Arabian Sea, and the neighboring countries, while foreign policy analyst Amir Ali Abul Fath remarked on the joint position of Iran and Russia opposed to the NATO expansion. Both the formal and unofficial specialists agreed that NATO poses a threat to Iran as well as Russia.

Can the Ukrainian War Create Geoeconomic Opportunities?

Accompanied by invasion, the US and the EU announced new sanctions against Russia. As the sanctions reach expanded, the Russian economy will feel the burden of the war even further. Infused in never-ending sanctions, the thought that Tehran and Russia will steer into new economic cooperation is chanted by almost all milieus within Iran. On this basis, Russia’s removal from the SWIFT led to quests for developing economic relations through national currencies. The effort to build bilateral economic relations through national currencies is not a new concept, but a concrete succession is never achieved.

According to several specialists, Iran could become an alternative provider for the European markets in case of implemented sanctions on Russian oil and gas. Iran and Qatar have the second-highest natural gas reserves after Russia. As the Vienna Talks continue and the revival of the JCPOA roughly concluded, an Iran-West reconciliation is seen absolute while Ebrahim Raisi inked a project on transportation under the Gulf as a part of the comprehensive cooperation agreement with Qatar. In case the actualization of the mentioned project occurs, Qatar’s territorial dependency on Saudi Arabia will be fractured. On top of that, the project has the potential for constructing new cooperation grounds on the energy between Qatar, Iran, and Türkiye. Iran's and Qatar's gas can be transmitted to the European markets through Türkiye. The haze on the future of the Nuclear Deal will continue after its resurrection, and the US Congress Elections and the mistrust among Tehran and Washington constitute the major causes. Even though the notion of providing gas to the European markets through Türkiye is thrilling, it is too soon to predict a realization of a reached consensus among the parties.

The Impact on the Nuclear Negotiations

Roughly monitored Vienna Talks carried out between Iran and P4+1 is shadowed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The focus lapsed into the Ukrainian crisis, particularly by the US and the EU, which will induce the declining pressure Iran was under throughout the negotiation process. 

The developments within Ukraine have embedded deductions for Iran. Ukraine enhanced its nuclear capacity after the dissolution of the USSR transferred those weapons totally to Russia within the given promises and commitments. The advantages of having nuclear weapons within crucial circumstances must be underlined, although Ukraine has no control over the weapons and the maintenance and preservation costs are astronomical. The opinions resurged on nuclear weapons’ deterrent force to facilitate as a shield against threats to Iran. On the other hand, the thesis on the further encircling of Russia with the Western sanctions will assist Iran to become prominent. Iran can squeeze an assurance that prohibits re-implementation of the sanctions as occurred in the Trump Era into the almost-concluded and drafted-up negotiations.

As a result, the Russian-waged war to invade Ukraine created particular opportunities and advantages for Iran on the military, security, diplomatic and political basis along with the economic ground. Therefore, the establishment of the mentioned opportunities would not be instituted within the short term. Nonetheless, the ambiguity in the extent of the Ukrainian crisis induces uncertainty on the evaluation of those advantages and opportunities. In addition, Iran’s most significant achievement is received in the security ground. Agreeing on the NATO threat with Russia and halted NATO expansion within both Europe and the Caucasians are a crucial success also for Tehran.

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