Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Monday praised his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and emphasized that Tehran and Moscow should continue their cooperation in Syria until the complete establishment of security and stability in the war-torn country, the Iranian media reported. “Close relations and cooperation between Iran and Russia have been very effective in Syria and for peace and security across the region,” Rouhani said in a meeting with Vyacheslav Volodin, the chairman of Russia’s State Duma (lower house of parliament), who is visiting Tehran leading a parliamentary delegation. Referring to the latest US punitive diplomatic measures against Russia, Rouhani said Iran has faced similar actions by Washington and its allies and called for closer ties between Tehran and Moscow to jointly confront Western pressure. The Iranian president also pointed out that his latest meetings with his Russian counterpart have helped further bolster economic and trade ties between the two countries, particularly in the energy and banking sectors. 

Ali Larijani, the speaker of Iran’s parliament, also met with his Russian counterpart separately, and the two sides discussed ways to improve cooperation between the two countries’ parliaments. 

Comment: Rouhani’s remarks came soon after alleged Israeli raids targeted a Syrian air base, where several Iranian nationals were killed. Both Tehran and Moscow condemned the strikes. And in the meeting with the Russian parliamentarians, Rouhani wanted to highlight that continued Russian-Iranian cooperation in Syria is still needed because internal and external threats to the Bashar al-Assad regime have not completely been removed. 

Iran’s Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami echoed a similar view during his latest trip to Moscow earlier this month. “As promised to the Syrian nation and regional nations, this [counter-terrorism] cooperation will continue until the total annihilation of terrorists and the liberation of regional nations from the scourge of terrorism,” the Iranian defense minister said after a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu. 

Rouhani’s comments also indicate that Tehran wants to exploit the heightening tension between Russia and the United States to forge closer ties with Moscow to jointly counter Western pressure. Iranian leaders understand that Washington is set to increase economic pressure on Tehran and may even cancel the Iran nuclear accord and re-impose nuclear-related sanctions; therefore, they see closer relations with Russia and other regional and world powers as crucial to minimizing the impact of new US sanctions. 

While Russia and Iran have been cooperating closely in the Syrian conflict, their vital interests and endgame strategy in Syria and the broader region are not entirely similar. And a history of distrust and divergence of interests continue to hinder the two countries’ tactical cooperation from translating into a strategic relationship. Iranian media often questions Moscow’s sincerity and point out that Moscow has at times sided with the West to sanction the Islamic Republic.