Isolated internationally over his unprovoked war on Ukraine, Russian president needs allies who are happy with more conflict
By Con Coughlin, EXECUTIVE DEFENCE EDITOR 19 July 2022 •
The summit taking place in Tehran between the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran has all the makings of creating a new unholy alliance capable of presenting a formidable challenge to the West.
That is certainly the calculation that will be at the forefront of Vladimir Putin’s mind, as the Russian president makes only his second overseas visit since the invasion of Ukraine. His first trip was to Kazakhstan in June.
Since then, Putin’s unprovoked assault on Russia’s southern neighbour has left him isolated on the international stage, while the Russian economy has been battered by the impact of hard-hitting Western sanctions.
The true extent of Moscow’s financial difficulties were laid bare last month, when Russia defaulted on its external sovereign debt for the first time since the Bolshevik revolution.
Moscow’s international isolation, meanwhile, was reflected in the miniscule support it attracted at the United Nations vote in March condemning the Ukraine invasion. Only four other authoritarian regimes – North Korea, Eritrea, Syria and Belarus – joined Russia in rejecting the resolution.
Putin is therefore in desperate need of new allies. This is no doubt the primary objective of his visit to Tehran, where he will have bilateral meetings with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Iranian supreme leader, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president.
Ostensibly, the main item on the agenda is the decade-old conflict in Syria, where all three countries have been deeply involved for differing reasons.
Iran and Russia have made a significant military contribution to helping the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, remain in power – while Turkey, a long-standing opponent of the Assad regime, has supported armed opposition factions.
But the real purpose of the Tehran summit is to explore whether it is possible for these rival powers to set aside their differences and unite in the common cause of resisting Western pressure.
Apart from maintaining Russia’s military campaign to capture large swathes of Ukrainian territory, Putin’s other key objective is to win backing for his efforts to evade the impact of Western sanctions.
The Russian leader has frequently denounced the sanctions as a declaration of economic war by the West and is desperately looking for ways to circumvent the measures.
As The Telegraph reported in March, Iran – which has many years experience of evading Western sanctions – has already offered to help Russia sell its oil on international markets by using the clandestine banking and finance system Tehran already has in place to evade Western sanctions.
More recently, there have been indications of closer military cooperation between Tehran and Moscow, with US officials reporting that Iran has offered to provide Russia with hundreds of drones in support of the war effort in Ukraine.
In return, Iran will be seeking Russian support for its activities in Syria, where Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is consolidating its military presence to threaten Israel’s security.
Russian officials are certainly keen to stress the importance of Putin’s meetings with the Iranian leadership. “The contact with Khamenei is very important,” confirmed Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s foreign policy adviser. “A trusting dialogue has developed between them on the most important issues on the bilateral and international agenda.”
Trying to bring Turkey on board will be a more significant challenge for the Russian leader, not least because Mr Erdogan has played a key role in helping Ukrainian forces to resist Russian attempts to conquer their country.
The Turkish-made Bayraktar TR2 drone has had a devastating impact on the battlefield, with its lightweight, laser-guided bombs decimating Russian forces.
There are also tensions between Moscow and Ankara over Syria, where Moscow opposes Mr Erdogan’s plans to launch a military offensive in northern Syria to drive away US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters from its borders.
That said, Turkey – which recently opposed plans for Finland and Sweden to join Nato – has often proved an unreliable Western ally and has refrained from imposing sanctions on Moscow. It has also been heavily involved in talks with Moscow to ease the Russian blockade of Ukraine’s vital grain exports.
Putin will certainly be hoping that, having successfully formed an alliance with Iran, he can achieve a similar outcome with Turkey too.
Also in the Telegraph:
Ukraine must win its war with Russia before winter to prevent the Kremlin from bedding in long term, presidential chief of staff Andriy Yermak said on Tuesday.
“It is very important for us not to enter into the winter,” Mr Yermak told Ukrainian weekly Novoye Vremya.
“After winter, when the Russians will have more time to get a footing, it will certainly be more difficult. It is very important for us not to give them this possibility.”
He repeated Kyiv’s view that Ukraine’s Western allies should supply it with more arms, and said he was counting on multibillion-dollar pledges of US aid in the form of weaponry and economic support.
The Ukraine Democracy Defence Lend-Lease Act package signed in May by US President Joe Biden to expedite that support is due to come fully into operation from next month.
“Our objective is victory,” Mr Yermak said.
Putin tells West to lift restrictions on grain exports
Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday night that the West must remove restrictions on exports of Russian grain.
“We will facilitate the export of Ukrainian grain, but we are proceeding from the fact that all restrictions related to air deliveries for the export of Russian grain will be lifted,” Mr Putin told reporters in Tehran after talks with the presidents of Iran and Turkey.
Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine has hampered shipments from one of the world’s biggest exporters of wheat and other grain, sparking fears of global food shortages.
“As you know, Americans have lifted – essentially lifted – restrictions on the supply of Russian fertilizers to the world markets,” Mr Putin said.
“If they sincerely want to improve the situation on the international food markets, I hope the same will happen with the supply of Russian grain for export.”