The drones show an alliance between Iran and Russia based on hostility towards the US.

The Iranian-made drones that Russia sent on Monday to dive-bomb Ukraine’s capital provided the most emphatic evidence yet that Tehran has become a rare ally and ever closer to the Kremlin, which offers both weapons and international support that Russia woefully lacks.

There is no deep love between Russia – recently outcast for attacking another country – and Iran, for decades one of the world’s most strategically isolated nations.

But the two authoritarian governments, both chafing at Western sanctions, share a vision of the United States as his great enemy and a threat to his grip on power.

Remains of what kyiv has described as an Iranian Shahed drone shot down near Kupiansk, Ukraine. (Ukrainian Army Strategic Communications Directorate via AP, File)

Remains of what kyiv has described as an Iranian Shahed drone shot down near Kupiansk, Ukraine. (Ukrainian Army Strategic Communications Directorate via AP, File)

“This is one association of convenience between two warring dictatorships,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Both countries are in deep crisis, struggling economically and politically.

Iran is trying to quell street protests that pose the most serious challenge to the government in years, while Russia is trying to manage growing dissent over a faltering war effort and an unpopular draft.

The emergence of a Moscow-Tehran alliance has multiple international implications, which could dim prospects for a new deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program and increase pressure on Iran. Israel, Iran’s sworn enemy, to side with Ukraine in the war.

The relationship between Russia and Iran has been developing for years.

The Russian President, Vladimir Putindeployed its air force to Syria starting in 2015 to prevent the collapse of the president’s regime Bashar Assada former ally of Tehran.

Russia and Iran worked in unison militarily, with Russian warplanes providing cover for Iranian militiamen and Iranian proxy forces who were fighting on the ground.

Syria was an example of the effort of both to find ways to undermine the strength and prestige of the United States in any part of the world, and Ukraine provides a similar opportunity on an even larger and more visible scale.

After its 1979 revolution, Iran framed its foreign policy around the slogan “Neither East Nor West”, equally distrustful of the Soviet Union and the United States.

Now the Islamic Republic is choosing sides, analysts said, and the images of Iran’s drones exploding with precision strikes at their targets herald it as a regional power to be taken seriously.

In Tehran, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman denied on Monday that his country was selling weapons to Russia, even as social media linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, which developed the heavy but deadly drones, they boasted about it.

“There is no doubt that the drones used by the Russian military are Iranian,” said a post on Sepah Cyberi, a Telegram channel affiliated with the Guard, while the head of the country’s cyber army, Ali Akbar Raefipour, gloated on Twitter that Iran’s Shahed drone was now “the most talked about gun in the world.”

Iran does not want to highlight arms sales because Ukraine is generally more popular than Russia among ordinary Iranians, and the Islamic Republic is presented as a defender of helplesss in world affairs, said Mahmoud Shoori, deputy director of the Institute for Iranian and Eurasian Studies. in Tehran and an expert on Iran-Russia relations.

But at the same time, “Iran also wants to show the world that it has a military superpower as an ally and that it has the ability to sell weapons to that power,” he said in a telephone interview.

“It shows that the West’s maximum pressure policies to isolate Iran have not worked.”

In addition to weapons, the two have found common ground in energy, oil and gas.

Russia has worked on Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant for decades, but extensive delays and multimillion-dollar cost overruns have made it a sore spot in relations.

Russian forces have run out of precision-guided cruise and ballistic missiles, Western analysts say, and as a result, the war has reversed the usual pattern of arms sales by major powers to smaller ones.

Unable to buy weapons elsewhere, except perhaps from North Korea, Moscow has turned to Iran.

Drones carry smaller payloads and are much slower than those missiles, making them much easier to shoot down.

But they are also much cheaper, so Russia can launch them in groups, overwhelming air defenses and allowing some to hit their targets.

“Russia can use them to target electricity, fuel, etc., and to try to deplete Ukraine economically over time,” said Michael Kofman, director of Russia studies at CNA, a defense research institute in Arlington, Virginia. .

Iran or its proxies have been accused of using drones to attack adversaries in their own region, such as Saudi Arabia.

For Iran, the Russian use of its drones sends a message to its internal hearing, including those who have been protesting restrictions on women’s rights and personal freedom for weeks.

The government is trying to show Iranians that it “is not in a position of weakness and has not been intimidated by external pressure and threats,” said Ali Vaez, director of the Iran project at the International Crisis Group, a think tank. independent investigation.

Washington Post reported on Sunday that Iran would also sell short-range ballistic missiles to Russia, weapons far more deadly than drones.

Analysts used to laugh at Iranian missiles as cheap knockoffs of Soviet or North Korean weapons, but not anymore.

In recent years, Iran has made “a lot of progress and has really improved its targeting ability,” said Afshon Ostovar, an associate professor of Middle East politics at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

It is not clear how he will react Saudi ArabiaIran’s main regional adversary, in the face of the Kremlin’s rapprochement with Tehran.

The Saudi government and Moscow have recently joined forces to try to raise oil prices, angering Washington and fueling inflation.

In Israel on Sunday, a cabinet minister, Nachman Shai, said on social media that Iran’s military assistance to Russia removed “any doubt about what Israel’s position should be in this bloody conflict.”

The time has come for Ukraine to also receive military aid, such as is provided by the United States and NATO countries.”

The Israeli prime minister’s office declined to comment.

Since the start of the war in February, Israel has not provided Ukraine with weapons despite frequent Ukrainian requests for air defense systems, and has been careful not to criticize Russia too much.

Russia has given Israel a relatively free hand to attack Iranian targets in Syria, and Israelis are also concerned about the Kremlin’s obstruction of Jewish emigration.

In a sign of rising tensions, Dmitry Medvedev, former president and now deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, warned on social media Monday against any “reckless” supply of Israeli military aid to Ukraine.

“It will destroy all interstate relations between our countries,” Medvedev wrote.

The deepening alliance between Russia and Iran “must be seen as a profound threat and something that any country should pay close attention to,” Vedant Patel, deputy spokesman for the US State Department, said at a briefing. press on Monday.

“We are in close contact with our allies and partners, including those in the United Nations, to address Iran’s dangerous proliferation of weapons in Russia.”

The European Union is closely monitoring the use of drones, said Josep Borrell Fontelles, its foreign policy chief.

The bloc had already been weighing further action against Iran for its violent crackdown on internal dissent in recent weeks.

Ukraine called for more sanctions on Monday.

Drone sales prompted more questions about the prospects for a nuclear deal under which Western sanctions against Iran would be lifted in exchange for Tehran greatly reducing its ability to enrich uranium needed for nuclear weapons.

So the president donald trump pulled out of the original 2015 pact, which included Russia and other world powers, and President Joe Biden has been willing to negotiate a new one.

The Russians are now seen as perhaps the least enthusiastic about the deal, as it would return significant amounts of Iranian oil and gas to the international market, competing with Russia’s own sales and possibly driving down prices.

It is also unclear how willing Iran’s ruling mullahs would be to re-accept limits on its nuclear program.

Putin made a rare trip abroad in July to cement the alliance with Iran as a counterweight to the West’s isolation.

Since then, the challenges facing both his government and Iran’s have grown significantly.

“In their view, the West is irreconcilably hostile or untrustworthy,” Vaez said of Iran.

“I think that in this conflict in Ukraine they see an opportunity to consolidate the relationship with the East as a way of trying to neutralize the pressure they face from the West, be it economic, military or political.”

Reporting was contributed by Farnaz Fassihi, Patrick Kingsley, Steven Erlanger, Edward Wong, and Oleg Matsnev.

c.2022 The New York Times Company

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