Iranian-Russian Alliance Deepens Amid Global Conflicts

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 27


Executive Summary:

  • Iran and Russia have steadily strengthened their bilateral cooperation over the past couple of years, primarily based on the destruction of common adversaries, a shared ideological alignment, and expanded military collaboration.
  • Tehran and Moscow have intensified their arms trade and technical assistance on defense matters, punctuating their strategic alignment.
  • The Iranian-Russian alliance is rooted in historical myths and nationalist sentiments, particularly against neighboring countries, with the shared goal of countering Western dominance.

Since the beginning of 2024, Iran has been sending Russia surface-to-surface ballistic missiles and will likely continue to do so. It was recently reported that Tehran has so far sent the Russian military about 400 missiles, many of which are of the Fateh-110 group. Since the expiration of the UN ban in October 2023, Iranian officials have claimed that Tehran can export any weapons or munitions to any country they like and that increasing war aid to Russia demonstrates the Islamic Republic’s military might (Ukrainskaya Pravda, February 21; Meduza, February 21). Since the beginning of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Iranian-Russian relationship has primarily focused on expanding cooperation on defense and security matters. More generally, the partnership consists of four interrelated parts: nationalism, the destruction of common adversaries, a shared ideology, and similar military goals. 

First, Russian and Persian nationalists are similar in their denial of the existence of the Ukrainian and Azerbaijani peoples (The National Interest, February 16, 2021; Tehran Times, November 20, 2022). These nationalists believe that Ukrainians and Azerbaijanis have no right to a separate existence from Russia and Iran, respectively. Russian nationalists view the three eastern Slavic peoples as a pan-Russian people consisting of “great,” “minor,” and “white” Russians—or Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians, respectively. Belarus has effectively become a “vassal” of Russia after the Kremlin rescued Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka after the 2020  presidential elections and launched an invasion to destroy Ukraine (RFI, September 9, 2020). Russian nationalists believe Ukraine is an artificial entity historically created by Austrians, Poles, and Vladimir Lenin and, more recently, by Washington. Moscow describes Ukraine as an “anti-Russia” created by the West to undermine pan-Russian unity (, July 12, 2021).

Persian nationalists view Azerbaijan as an artificial construct created by the Soviet regime, as the region was historically part of Iran. Approximately 20 million Azerbaijanis, double the population of Azerbaijan, live in northern Iran, which the Soviet Union briefly occupied from 1941 to 1946 (RTVI, September 27, 2023; Kavkaz Geological Club, January 18).

Iran’s close economic, energy and military cooperation with Armenia is an outgrowth of its poor relations with Azerbaijan. On paper, Tehran upheld Azerbaijani territorial integrity while simultaneously supporting Armenian irredentism, the occupation of Karabakh, and a fifth of Azerbaijani territory from 1992 to 2020 (RTVI, September 27, 2023). The Islamic Republic’s export of theocratic extremism to Azerbaijan through training and financing extremist Islamic groups and clerics has been unsuccessful. Azerbaijan’s strategic and military partnerships with Israel and Turkey have sought to counterbalance Persian nationalist irredentism (RUSI, June 4, 2021).

Second, Russia and Iran are fighting their war against the West in Ukraine and Israel. Russian and Persian nationalists view the Ukrainians and Israelis as interlopers on “historic” Russian and Arab lands that should be destroyed. They hope that Ukraine becomes a satellite state of Moscow and Israeli lands are given to the Palestinians (Zerkalo, October 8, 2023).

Third, Russia and Iran blame the United States for the current global instability. Moscow and Tehran consistently criticize Western values. They seek to replace the supposed US-led world order, which has been in place since the end of the Cold War, with vague multipolarity. Earlier this year, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, Iran’s minister for armed forces logistics, that the Kremlin seeks a “truly equal multipolar world” (TASS, January 15). 

Moscow’s deeply held belief that Russia has been disrespected globally since 1991 drives its attack on the collective West. The Kremlin constantly criticizes Washington for not respecting its self-declared right to an exclusive sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian nationalists harbor nostalgia for the Soviet years. They believe the United States respected the Soviet Union as an equal superpower with recognized spheres of influence and a balance of power in international affairs (Levada Center, January 14, 2019).

North Korea has become the latest party to the Iranian-Russian partnership as a supplier of artillery shells, and possibly missiles, to Russia. While supporting the Russian economy by purchasing discounted energy supplies and increasing trade volumes, China has refrained from sending direct military aid to the Kremlin. Beijing, nevertheless, may be sending weaponry to Russia via North Korea (Al Jazeera, September 13, 2023).

Fourth, Iran and Russia continue to expand their military cooperation. The Russian military is importing higher quantities of Iranian drones, artillery shells, and ballistic surface-to-surface missiles, some with a range of nearly 200 miles. Moscow has also demonstrated interest in Iran’s Ababil and Fateh tactical missiles. On February 6, the hacker group Prana Network released accessed documents from Sahara Thunder, the Iranian manufacturer of Shahed drones. The documents revealed that the Iranian-Russian contract signed in 2022 for the delivery of 6,000 Shahed drones cost $1.75 billion and was paid for by Russia in gold bullion. In February, some outlets reported that Russia would soon begin assembling Shahed-136 suicide drones at a factory in the Republic of Tatarstan (Ukrainskaya Pravda, February 6). Russian forces have extensively used the Shahed-131 and Shahed-136 suicide drones against Ukrainian civilian targets and critical infrastructure. The Kremlin plans to acquire the Shahed-107 drone, which has a range of nearly 1,000 miles and can be used for reconnaissance. 

Iran, in turn, has voiced interest in importing Russian Su-35 fighter jets. Tehran is particularly interested in the military aircraft as it can be fitted with Russian long-range air-to-ground missiles, Mi-28 attack helicopters, Yak-130 jet trainers, and radars (Al Mayadeen, November 28, 2023). Additionally, the Iranian military hopes to acquire S-300 and S-400 air defense systems from Russia to protect against potential drone and missile attacks. Israel would likely launch strikes if Iran were close to acquiring nuclear weapons (Jerusalem Post, March 3, 2023).

Before 2022, Russia did not support Tehran’s development of nuclear weapons. Since Moscow’s expanded invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin has adopted a more neutral stance toward Iran’s nuclear program. Moscow has refrained from pressuring Iran to rejoin talks on the restoration of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and seeks to shield Iran from international criticism on the UN Security Council (TASS, January 31, 2023). The JCPOA has become a hostage of the deterioration of Russian relations with the West. As a result, Moscow could actively assist Iran in acquiring nuclear weapons. Western analysts assert this possibility cannot be ruled out (War on the Rocks, November 3, 2022). The Russian-Iranian partnership could take on a nuclear component in the coming months to combat Western dominance of the world order.