In recent weeks, the Iranian state-run media have been boasting about the ‘Trilateral Astana Summit’ that took place on Tuesday, July 19. However, the participants of the conference showed their divisions more than their unities.
Syria and Turkey’s Concerns
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan asked Russia and Iran to back Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria during the summit. The Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei explicitly declared his objection to the assault, while the Russian President also opposed Erdoğan’s plan.
However, the Turkish army is continuing to scope out Syrian areas in defiance of the Astana Summit, showing that the talks have detached ties between the countries instead of fastening them. Tehran and Moscow, and their allies in the region, all raised their condemnation against Turkey’s attack despite their smiles and inking collaboration accords during the summit.
Tehran-Moscow Military Ties
On July 13, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan revealed that the Iranian regime plans to send hundreds of UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] to Moscow. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian has apparently rejected the contract, but the facts speak louder.
The Times reported, “US intelligence believes that Iran will provide President Putin’s army with several hundred drones that were originally intended to help rebels in Yemen to fight the Saudi-backed government there.”
In a White House briefing, Sullivan stated, “Iran is preparing to train Russian forces to use these UAVs.”
On July 16, CNN reported that a Russian delegation had visited an airfield in central Iran at least twice in the last month to examine weapons-capable drones. Their broadcast stated, “Iran began showcasing the Shahed-191 and Shahed-129 drones, also known as UAVs or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, to Russia at Kashan Airfield south of Tehran in June. Both types of drones are capable of carrying precision-guided missiles.”
Of course, this is not the whole story. Behind the scenes, there are severe clashes between Tehran and Moscow. However, both countries are trying to conceal them to save their view at the international level.
In an interview with the semiofficial Sharq daily on July 18, the Russian Ambassador in Iran Levan Dzhagaryan revealed that Tehran owes over hundreds of billions of euros to Moscow. According to Dzhagaryan, this considerable debt is related to Bushehr nuclear plant. However, he refused to leak further details.
He said, “Iran owed us and had yet to pay for building the Bushehr plant. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has also discussed this issue with the Iranian foreign minister.”
The daily also questioned the ambassador about the Bushehr nuclear plant situation. One reporter asked, “Why is this plant incapable of providing power even for Bushehr?” In response, Dzhagaryan said, “You don’t know many things, and I cannot say details. There are some things I don’t want to expose unveil. However, it is obvious that Iran has a multi-hundred-billion-euro debt to us and refuses to settle it.”
Further Distinctions Between Iran-Russia
The differences are not limited to debts alone. There is also severe competition between Tehran and Moscow in financial and trade aspects.
On July 16, the Wall Street Journal revealed, “Iran and Russia are engaged in a fierce competition for sales of oil, refined crude products and metals in India, China and across Asia, as Moscow sells at prices that are undercutting one of its few supporters during the Ukraine invasion.”
WSJ Benoit Faucon wrote, “‘It’s murderous,’ an Iranian trader said of the $30 a ton discounts that Indian and Chinese buyers wanted to match Russian steel prices. ‘They are destroying the market,’ said Hamid Hosseini, the spokesman for the Iranian Oil, Gas and Petrochemical Products Exporters Union, speaking of Russia.”
In conclusion, not only did the Astana Summit fail to reduce the rifts between the three participants, but it also revealed profound and complicated distinctions.
However, only Tehran has addressed its vulnerability versus the international community and ongoing public protests, which have severely challenged the entire ruling system in recent months.
Meanwhile, US Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley, who played a crucial role in closing the nuclear deal with the mullahs, has now expressed disappointment over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. In an interview with CNN on July 20, he said that the “window to revive nuclear deal is rapidly closing.”
He added, “Iran has a choice now. It can opt for a position of relative dependency on Russia—Russia itself has been isolated internationally and have a very narrow economic opportunity with Russia which really can’t go very far, or it can choose to come back into the deal. If it chooses the path of not getting back into the deal, of greater isolation and then having to turn to Russia, having to sell armed drones to Russia, that’s a choice that is not a particularly attractive one.”
On July 19, US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said, “With each passing day it is– we’re not just treading water, but we’re losing ground. And Iran is sending a signal to us and to the rest of the world that it has no interest in mutually returning to compliance with the JCPOA. If Iran makes clear that it has no intention of doing so and the deal that’s on the table is obviated by Iran’s continuing advancements in its nuclear program, we will pursue another path.”