This article first appeared in The National Interest.
Thanks to the unending American-Russian standoff over Ukraine, there are voices in Tehran that seem to believe that the road to international rehabilitation goes through Moscow.
This week’s high-profile visit to Iran by the Russian Defense Minster is bound to intensify speculations about what the Iranians and the Russians are up to. Still, it is both too premature to assume that – despite the rhetoric – something strategic is in the pipeline as far as Moscow-Tehran relations are concerned, or that there is some kind of agreement inside the Islamic Republic about the prospect of Russia as a strategic ally.
Big economic talk
Last week, Iran sent its first consignment of shrimp to Russia. The export of the shrimp is part of a broader political-economic dialogue that Tehran and Moscow have earnestly engaged in since late 2013.
Shortly after he became president, Hassan Rouhani and Vladimir Putin met at the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Bishkek in September 2013. They stressed the need for economic cooperation and within weeks an oil-for-goods swap deal to the tune of $1.5 billion per month was signed. It was said to amount to roughly 500,000 barrels of Iranian oil per day in return for Russian goods and commodities such as grain. By all accounts, this ambitious barter has yet to happen but it is still on the cards.
There is no denying that this trend of closer ties accelerated following Russia’s fallout with the West over Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. With the ensuing sanctions that the West put on it, Russia was on the lookout to strengthen its economic ties to non-Western states. The likes of China and Iran fit the bill nicely. With talk of President Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov going to Tehran sometime in the near future, perhaps there is more in the way of Iranian-Russian collaboration.
A top Iranian official in Tehran this week predicted an “eye-catching increase in the volume of trade ties between the two countries for 2015.” Iran’s Ambassador to Moscow, Mehdi Sanayee, said in December that Tehran and Moscow planned to boost their trade to $70 billion in the near future. That would be eye-catching indeed.
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