In Iran, Putin gets strong support; Israelis concerned

The enhanced ties between Moscow and Tehran are especially concerning to Israel – not only because of its opposition to a nuclear deal.

By Associated Press and World Israel News Staff

Russian President Vladimir Putin won staunch support from Iran on Tuesday for his country’s military campaign in Ukraine, with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei saying the West opposes an “independent and strong” Russia.

Khamenei claimed that if Russia hadn’t sent troops into Ukraine, it would have faced an attack from NATO later, a statement that echoed Putin’s own rhetoric and reflected increasingly close ties between Moscow and Tehran.

In only his second trip abroad since Russia launched the military action in February, Putin conferred with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the conflict in Syria, and he used the trip to discuss a UN-backed proposal to resume exports of Ukrainian grain to ease the global food crisis.

Turkey, a NATO member, has found itself opposite Russia in bloody conflicts in Syria and Libya. But Ankara hasn’t imposed sanctions on the Kremlin, making it a sorely needed partner for Moscow. Grappling with runaway inflation and a rapidly depreciating currency, Turkey also relies on the Russian market.

Speaking to Erdogan as their meeting began, Putin thanked him for his mediation to help “move forward” a deal on Ukrainian grain exports. “Not all the issues have been resolved yet, but it’s good that there has been some progress,” Putin said.

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Erdogan praised what he described as Russia’s “very, very positive approach” during last week’s grain talks in Istanbul. He voiced hope a deal will be made, and “the result that will emerge will have a positive impact on the whole world.”

The trip to Tehran has symbolic meaning for Putin’s domestic audience as well, showing off Russia’s international clout even as it grows increasingly isolated and plunges deeper into confrontation with the West.

Backed into a corner by the West and its regional rivals, the Iranian government is ramping up uranium enrichment, cracking down on dissent and grabbing headlines with optimistic, hardline stances intended to keep the Iranian currency, the rial, from crashing. Without sanctions relief in sight, Iran’s tactical partnership with Russia has become one of survival, even as Moscow appears to be undercutting Tehran in the black-market oil trade.

“Iran is (the) center of dynamic diplomacy,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian wrote on Twitter, adding the meetings will “develop economic cooperation, focus on security of the region … and ensure food security.”

Fadahossein Maleki, a member of the Iranian parliament’s influential committee on national security and foreign policy, described Russia as Iran’s “most strategic partner” on Monday.

“We are strengthening our cooperation on international security issues, making a significant contribution to the settlement of the Syrian conflict.”

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“There has been good experience of the two countries in fighting terrorism, which I think has brought security to the region,” Raisi said.

‘Very pleased to be on the hospitable Iranian soil’

In a sign of increasingly close military cooperation, Russian officials in recent weeks visited an airfield in central Iran at least twice to review Tehran’s weapons-capable drones for possible use in Ukraine, the White House has alleged.

Putin hailed the importance of close ties between Moscow and Tehran at his meetings with the Iranian leaders.

“Our relations are developing at a good pace,” Putin said at the start of the meeting with Raisi, adding that they two countries have worked to “strengthen their cooperation on international security and contribute significantly to the Syrian settlement.”

“I am very pleased to be on the hospitable Iranian soil,” Putin told Raisi, according to  IRNA.

In a closing statement, he offered strong support to Tehran over the deadlocked nuclear deal, calling for its full revival and a complete lifting of sanctions against Iran to allow a “free development of cooperation in any areas without any discrimination.”

During their trilateral talks, the presidents discussed the decade-old conflict in Syria, where Iran and Russia have backed President Bashar Assad’s government, while Turkey has supported armed opposition factions. Russia intervened in the conflict in 2015, pooling efforts with Iranian forces and using its air power to shore up Assad’s fledgling military.

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The enhanced ties between Moscow and Tehran are especially concerning to Israel, not only because of its opposition to a nuclear deal. Russia has been turning a blind eye to IDF attacks on Iranian bases in Syria until recently.

Israeli-Russian relations have been spiraling downward as Moscow condemned Israel earlier this month for the second time in three weeks for its alleged attack on Syrian installations, demanding that they stop immediately.

“The recurrence of Israeli attacks in Syria is completely unacceptable,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in a statement. “We strongly condemn such irresponsible actions that violate Syria’s sovereignty and the basic norms of international law, and we demand their unconditional cessation.”

Raisi said all parties urged expelling American forces from Syria. In a reference to the U.S. military, Putin denounced what he described as “attempts to cement unlawful foreign military presence and foment separatist sentiments” and emphasized that all areas east of the Euphrates River should return to Syrian government control.