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Drones and transport could reshape Eurasian geopolitics – Modern Diplomacy

When US intelligence asserted that Iran was selling hundreds of combat drones to Russia, it was signalling more than Iranian support for Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Suggesting that Russia was not capable of serial producing its own drones, the intelligence served to question further Russian military capabilities, already overshadowed by doubt because of the poor performance of Russian military personnel and equipment on the Ukrainian battlefield.
The US disclosure followed the inauguration in Tajikistan of Iran’s first overseas drone manufacturing facility. The factory produces Iran’s Ababil-2 multipurpose reconnaissance and killer drone.
The disclosure likely also drew Gulf attention to Iran’s potentially expanding role in assisting Russia, and China, in an increasingly bifurcated world at a time that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were manoeuvring to put their strained relations with the Islamic republic on a more even keel.
With Russia, Iranian assistance goes far beyond the supply of drones. Iran stands to gain substantially from being a key node in a Eurasian transport corridor that would help Russia circumvent US and European sanctions.
Iran would enhance its geopolitical usefulness by offering a route into Central Asia and Afghanistan that allows India to circumvent its archenemy, Pakistan.
Indian foreign minister S. Jaishankar pushed this month at a meeting in Tashkent of foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to include the Indian-backed Iranian port of Chabahar in the corridor dubbed the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC).
The SCO groups alongside India, Russia, China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Iran is set to join the organization in the next year.
Earlier this month, at a summit of Caspian Sea littoral states, Mr. Putin hailed the corridor as a “truly ambitious project” that is the centrepiece of Russia’s efforts to “improve the transport and logistics architecture of the region.”
The Ukraine crisis has given a new lease on life to the INSTC, a 7,200-kilometre patchwork of independently operated railroads, highways, and maritime routes that connect Russia and India through Iran.
If successful, the corridor that traverses Russia, Central Asia, the Caspian, Iran, and the Arabian Sea would reduce travel time from 40-60 days to 25-30 days and cut costs by 30 percent. In addition, its significance could be boosted by hook-ups with Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey.
The Islamic Republic is indispensable to Russia since transit across its territory links that Eurasian great power with their shared Indian strategic partner, which safeguards Russia’s strategic autonomy in these new international conditions,” said analyst Andrew Korybko.
Alireza Peyman Pak, the head of Iran’s Trade Promotion Organization, expects the corridor to enable Iran to double its exports despite dim prospects for a revival of the 2105 international agreement that curbed the Islamic republic’s nuclear program. A revival would involve lifting at least some of the crippling US sanctions against Iran.
This month’s Russian-Ukrainian agreement to export grain from three Ukrainian Caspian Sea ports under the auspices of the United Nations and Turkey highlighted the body of water’s centrality.
A shipment in June of two and then 39 containers in July of wood laminate sheets from Russia to India’s Jawaharlal Nehru Port in Mumbai served as pilot projects for the corridor.
The cargos left St Petersburg for the Russian port of Astrakhan, from where they were shipped to Iran’s Anzali Caspian port. They were then taken by road across Iran to Bandar Abbas, from where the cargo moved to Mumbai. The entire journey in both cases took 24 days.
At the same time, RZD Logistics, a subsidiary of Russian Railways, the largest multimodal transport operator in the former Soviet Union and the Baltics, launched a new container train service along the INSTC. Its first train headed from Moscow to Mumbai left the Russian capital on July 8.
These are the new routes east, and Moscow is very serious about getting these put in place, especially as EU sanctions are expected to remain — even after the conflict with Ukraine is over,” said Chris Devonshire-Ellis, a business and investment consultant.
In an illustration of the new routes, India and Uzbekistan agreed to do a pilot shipment to Mumbai through Chabahar in August.
The INSTC has gained significance with a spike in trade between Russia and India, fuelled by Indian imports of Russian oil. Imports in April and May rose by a stunning 272 per cent, with a value of more than US$5 billion or the equivalent in two months of 50 per cent of average annual trade between the two countries that ranges on average between US$8 and 11 billion.
With Mr. Putin in Tehran for a meeting with his Iranian and Turkish counterparts, Ebrahim Raisi and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Iran and Russia signed a memorandum of understanding under which Russian oil company 335151Gazprom would invest US$40 billion in the extraction of Iranian gas and oil.
Few analysts expect the memorandum to be more than a symbolic statement any time soon. The same is true for a Russian-Iranian agreement to create an alternative international payment system that would be unable to put a dent in SWIFT. The Brussels-based group executes financial transactions and payments between banks worldwide.
That leaves arms and transport alongside the conflict in Syria, and a common desire to up-end a US-dominated world order as the potential cornerstones of relations between two of the key powers that bookend the INSTC. Both countries have sufficient interest in these areas not to allow competition for selling oil and gas to Asia at discounted prices because of the sanctions to stymie their cooperation.
Said security analyst Ali Ahmadi: “Iran…requires…a strategy for turning trade routes into economic corridors that can benefit its own citizens. If Tehran can rise to the challenge, it will have a key role to play in the development of Asia and East-West trade moving forward.”
Toward a China-Russia axis?
Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.
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Toward a China-Russia axis?
China and Russia spent the last decade strengthening their mutual trade, political and military ties, developing energy infrastructure in Russian territory and uninterruptedly consolidating their strategic partnership. The Beijing-Moscow relationship was then reinforced last February 4—just three weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine—, by means of a joint statement asserting that the “friendship between the two States has no limits.” This being so, when the war started, many wondered whether China would preserve its ties with Moscow and actually become a source of support for the Russian economy, even while a large proportion of the international community enacted sanctions and boycotts on Russia. So far, and to this very day, that is precisely what China’s been doing.
Even though it has called for a peace settlement in Ukraine, Beijing has never condemned Russia for the invasion, it voted for Moscow in a couple of international votes, and even criticized sanctions against Russia as being unilateral” and “illegal.” Just two weeks into the invasion, Wang Yi, China’s Foreign Minister (FM), stated that Russia is China’s “most important strategic partner” and that the two powers would maintain “strategic focus and promote the development of a comprehensive China-Russia partnership”. This commitment was clearly reaffirmed later on, by means of the joint military exercise of May 24—coinciding with President Biden’s visit to Japan—, which was a clear statement that the partnership between both countries has not been compromised by the offensive against Ukraine.
Even in the early days of the war, Beijing announced it wouldcontinue to carry out normal trade cooperation” with Russia. From then on, mutual trade between the two economies has grown, with China expanding its imports of Russian coal and gas, and becoming, along with India and Turkey, a key destination for Russian oil. China has already declared it will cooperate with Russia in energy, finance, science and technology, and also in the technical-military sector. And, according to the Washington Post, Beijing has been working to facilitate Russian business activity in Chinese territory, and even went to the point of commanding a number of provincial and municipal governments to expand trade and financial ties with Russia. But there’s more. The two countries recently signed new trade arrangements in energy and food, with the Global Times, of China, quoting experts to mention that China and Russia are moving toward cooperation across the entire industrial chain, and also that Chinese companies are in a position to fill the void left by the Europeans in the Russian import market. The infrastructural ties between both countries are being reinforced as well, with the construction of a cross-border bridge over the Amur/Heilong river, and also with the plans for two more Russia-China gas pipelines in the Far East, including the Soyuz Vostok pipeline (read more about this here.)
Lavrov has recently come forth to mention that Russia and China are now cooperating in energy, industry, agriculture and transportation, and that “we intend to develop an independent financial infrastructure” and “increase the use of the ruble and the yuan” in bilateral transactions. The dedollarization of mutual trade has, in recent years, been a recurring theme of cooperation between Russia and China, and now that dedollarization process seems to be on the rise, with a hike in yuan-ruble trading, apparently reflecting an increased use of those currencies in bilateral trade.
In mid-June, Chinese President Xi Jinping talked with Putin to note that China intends not only to intensify ties with Russia, but also to deepen mutual strategic coordination and to cooperate in matters of sovereignty and security. In his stead, Putin offered Russia’s support to the Global Security Initiative (GSI), which was recently put forth by China. The purpose of the GSI is to establish an alternative international security architecture, in opposition to U.S. global hegemony. Besides Russia, the GSI already has the backing of Indonesia and Pakistan, among other states.
It’s quite plausible that we’re now witnessing the rise of a China-Russia axis: an economic and geopolitical alignment elevating the Sino-Russian strategic partnership to entirely new heights. While such a context would not ensure Chinese military assistance to Moscow for the duration of the war in Ukraine, it would nonetheless tend to sustain Russia’s economy, while granting China privileged access to Russia’s abundant natural wealth. Additionally, such an alignment would give Beijing, which is a rising nuclear actor itself, an intimate relationship with the world’s second thermonuclear power.
A Sino-Russian axis would inevitably foster authoritarian standards across the globe, while striving for the autocratic and multipolar transformation of the international order. It would also commit itself to a wholesale harmonization of interests across Asia and other regions of the world, under the Sino-Russian aegis. And, in case it ever managed to achieve such a purpose, then the West’s global influence would, in essence, come out dramatically weakened.
Here, it is of note that, over the years, China has come to build a vast relations network across the Global South—which, in a general sense, is the Developing World. In his recent talk with Putin, Xi said that China-Russia cooperation ought to include the promotion of solidarity and cooperation among emerging market countries and developing nations. Then, some time later, Wang Yi, the Chinese FM, met with Lavrov, and to quote Chinese state news agency Xinhua, he said that Beijing and Moscow should work together to safeguard the common interests of developing countries, which, he alleged, nurture the shared aspiration to oppose hegemony. Lavrov himself had already talked about those regions of the world, when he alluded to the importance of the ties with which, according to him, Russia counts on across Africa, Latin America and Asia. Then, in his turn, Putin came forth to say that Moscow intends to build partnerships across those regions, and in early June he met with the Chairman of the African Union to discuss, among other matters, the future of Russia-Africa relations. Deepening ties with Africa seems to be one of the Kremlin’s strategic purposes, as evinced by Lavrov’s visit to the continent.
It thus seems certain that a potential Sino-Russian axis would direct a fair share of its appeal to most of the Global South, so as to ensure those countries’ loyalty and solidarity. Of additional relevance here, the fact that, ever since Moscow invaded Ukraine, the Global South has been steadily targeted by Russian disinformation campaigns—echoed and amplified by China itself—, rationalizing Russian aggression and inciting anti-Western sentiment.
Regardless of what steps China and Russia might take next, it seems to be clear that the West must do what it’s rarely been doing over recent decades, and that is to present the Developing World with consistent options for development and commerce.
As popularly known to African leaders, Russia has thousands of decade-old undelivered pledges and several bilateral agreements signed with individual countries, yet to be implemented, in the continent. In addition, during the previous years there have been unprecedented huge number of “working visits” by state officials both ways, to Africa and to the Russian Federation.
In an authoritative research policy report presented last November titled ‘Situation Analytical Report’ and was prepared by 25 Russian policy experts headed by Sergei A. Karaganov, Dean and Academic Supervisor of the Faculty of World Economy and International Relations of the National Research University’s Higher School of Economics (HSE University). Karaganov is also the Honorary Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy.
Russia’s Africa policy is roughly divided into four periods, previously after Soviet’s collapse in 1991. After the first summit held in October 2019, the Russia’s relations with Africa has entered its fifth stage.
According to that report “the intensification of political contacts is only with a focus on making them demonstrative.” Russia’s foreign policy strategy regarding Africa needs to spell out and incorporate the development needs of African countries. The number of high-level meetings has increased, but the share of substantive issues on the agenda remains small. There are little definitive results from such meetings. Next, there has been lack of coordination among various state and para-state institutions working with Africa.
Despite the above objective criticisms or better still the research findings, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s trip to four African countries on 24-28 July, 2022, still has considerable geopolitical significance and some implications. The four African countries on his travel agenda: Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Republic of the Congo. 
In pre-departure interview with local Russian media, Lavrov shared reflections on the prospects for Russia-African relations within the context of the current geopolitical and economic changes, fearing an isolation with tough sanctions after Russia’s Feb. 24 “special military operation” in Ukraine. He unreservedly used, at least, the the media platform to clarify Russia’s view of the war and attract allies outside the West, and rejected the West’s accusations that Russia is responsible for the current global economic crisis and instability. Reports said African countries are among those most affected by ripples of the war. There are, however, other natural causes such as long seasonal droughts that complicated the situation in Africa. At least, the United States offered US$1.3 billion package to help tackle hunger in the Africa’s Horn. 
It is a historical fact that Russia’s ties with Africa declined with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The official transcripts made available after Lavrov’s meetings in Egypt offered little, much have already been said about developments in North African and Arab world, especially those including Libya, Syria and Yemen, as well as the Palestinian-Israeli conflicts. 
With the geographical location of Egypt, Lavrov’s visit has tacit implications. It followed US President Joe Biden’s first visit to the Middle East, during which he visited Israel, the Palestinian territories and Saudi Arabia. Biden also took part in a summit of  the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, in addition to Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.
Lavrov’s efforts toward building non-Western ties this crucial times is highly commendable especially with the Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit and representatives from the organization’s 22 member states. Egypt has significant strategic and economic ties with Russia. There are two major projects namely the building of nuclear plants, the contract signed back in 2015 and the construction of an industrial zone has been on the planning table these several years.
In the aftermath of the Soviet Union, Russia continues efforts in search of possible collaboration and opportunities for cooperation in the past years. For the first time in the Republic of Congo, Lavrov delivered a special message from President Vladimir Putin to the Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso, at his residence in Oyo, a town 400 kilometers north of the capital, Brazzaville. Kremlin records show that Sassou-Nguesso, who has been in power since 1979, last visited Moscow in May 2019 and before that in November 2012. 
The Congolese leader during his visit apparently asked for Russia’s greater engagement, and assistance in bringing total peace and stability in Central Africa comprising the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Cameroon and Chad. This presents a considerable interest especially its “military-technical cooperation” to further crash French domination similar to the Republic of Mali in West Africa. Interviews made by this author confirmed that Russia would send more military experts from Wagner Group to DRC through Central African Republic. An insider at the Congo’s Foreign Affairs Ministry confirmed the special message relates an official invitation for Congolese President Sassou-Nguesso to visit Moscow.
Understanding the political developments and much talked about transition (better to describe it as hereditary succession) of regime from President Yoweri Museveni to his son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, unquestionably brings Lavrov to Uganda. For Museveni, drawing closer to Russia sends a critical message about the motives on relations between Uganda and Russia.
With Foreign Minister of Uganda Jeje Odongo in the city of Entebbe, Lavrov in the same traditional rhetoric mentioned “the implementation of joint projects in oil refining, energy, transport infrastructure and agricultural production.” It was decided to focus on practical efforts to move the above areas of focus forward in the course of an Intergovernmental Russian-Ugandan Commission on Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation meeting in October.
Interesting to recall that President Vladimir Putin’s meeting on December 11, 2012, President Museveni  said “Moscow is a kind of Mecca for free movements in Africa. Muslims visit Mecca as a religious ritual, while Moscow is a kind of centre that helps various liberation movements.” Later in October 2019, Museveni expressed appreciation for the Africa–Russia meeting.
“It is good to say at this meeting a few areas which we could look at. Number one is defence and security. We have supported building an army by buying good Russian equipment, aircrafts, tanks, and so on. We want to buy more. We have been paying cash in the past, cash, cash, cash. What I propose is that you supply and we pay. That would be some sort of supply that would make us build faster, because now we pay cash, like for this Sukhoi jet, we paid cash,”Museveni during the conversation told Putin.
Lavrov displays his passion for historical references. In many of his speeches during the four-nation tour, Lavrov has repeatedly stressed that it’s imperative for African leaders to support its “special military operation” in Ukraine, repeated all the Soviet assistance to Africa and the perspectives for the future of Russia-African relations. But most essentially, Lavrov has to understand that little has been achieved, both the long period before and after the first Russia-Africa summit held October 2019. 
In Ethiopia where the African Union headquarters is located, and representatives of African countries are based, Russia is vying to normalize an international order and frame-shape its geostrategic posture in this capital city. Whether 25 of Africa’s 54 states abstained or did not vote to condemn Russia at the UN General Assembly resolution in March, Africans are overwhelmingly pragmatic. Most of them displayed neutrality, created basis for accepting whatever investment and development finance from the United States, European Union, Asian region, Russia and China, from every other region of the world. 
Lavrov, however, informed about broadening African issues in the “new version of Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept against the background of the waning of the Western direction” and his will objectively increase the share of the African direction in the work of the Foreign Ministry. Relating to the next summit, scheduled for mid-2023, “a serious package of documents that will contain almost all significant agreements” are being prepared, he said.
Lavrov with his Ethiopian counterpart Demeke Mekonnnen and the African Union leadership in Addis Ababa have agreed on additional documents paving the way to a more efficient dialogue in the area of defense sales and contracts. Still on Ethiopia, Russia’s state-run nuclear corporation Rosatom and Ethiopia’s Ministry of Innovation and Technology signed a roadmap on cooperation in projects to build a nuclear power plant and a nuclear research center in the republic. In addition, other bilateral issues, including joint energy and infrastructure projects, and education were discussed.
“We have good traditions in the sphere of military and technical cooperation. Today, we confirmed our readiness to implement new plans in this sphere, including taking into account the interests of our Ethiopian friends in ensuring their defensive ability,” the Russian top diplomat said.
“Russia is ready to continue providing assistance to Ethiopia in training its domestic specialists in various spheres,” he added and finally explaining that Moscow was ready to develop both bilateral humanitarian and cultural contacts and cooperation in the sphere of education with Addis Ababa.
According to Lavrov, Russia has long-standing good relations with Africa since the days of the Soviet Union which pioneered movements that culminated in decolonization. It provided assistance to the national liberation movements and then to the restoration of independent states and the rise of their economies in Africa. Undeniable fact is that many external players have also had long-term relations and continue bolstering political, economic and social ties in the continent.
In his Op-Ed article, Lavrov argues: “We have been rebuilding our positions for many years now. The Africans are reciprocating. They are interested in having us. It is good to see that our African friends have a similar understanding with Russia.” The point is that Moscow is desirous to widen and deepen its presence in the continent. On the other hand, the Maghreb and African countries are, in terms of reciprocity, keen to strengthen relations with Moscow, but will avoid taking sides in the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
Lavrov has successfully ended his meetings and talks in Africa. Now, the basic issue in its relations is still the fact that Russia has thousands of decade-old undelivered pledges and several bilateral agreements signed with individual countries in the continent, while in the previous years there have been unprecedented huge number of “working visits” to Africa. The development of a comprehensive partnership with African countries remains among top priorities of Russia’s foreign policy, Moscow is open to its further build-up, Lavrov said in an Op-Ed article for the African media, and originally published on the ministry’s website.
In the context of rebuilding post-Soviet relations and now attempting at creating a new model of the global order, Russia needs to be more open, make more inroads into the civil society, rather than close (isolate) itself from “non-Western friends” this fast-changing period – in Asia, Africa and Latin America. For instance, Africa is ready as it holds huge opportunities in various sectors for reliable, genuine and committed investors. It offers a very profitable investment destination. 
Despite criticisms, China has built an exemplary dinstinctive economic power in Africa. Besides China, Africa is largely benefitting from the European Union and Western aid flows, economic and trade ties. That compared, Russia plays very little role in Africa’s infrastructure, agriculture and industry, and making little efforts in leveraging unto the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Our monitoring shows that the Russian business community hardly pays attention to the significance of African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which provides a unique and valuable platform for businesses to access an integrated African market of over 1.3 billion people. 
Substantively, Russia brings little to the continent especially in the economic sectors that badly need investment. Of course, Russia aims at restoring and regaining part of its Soviet-era influence, but has problems with planning and tackling its set tasks, lack of confidence in fulfilling its policy targets. The most important aspect is how to make strategic efforts more practical, more consistent and more effective with African countries. Without these fundamental factors, it would therefore be an illusionary dream considering partnership with Africa.
Some policy experts have classified three directions for external partners dealing with Africa: (i) active engagement, (ii) sit and observe, and (iii) be passive player. From all indications, African leaders have political sympathy, and most often, could express either support or neutral position for Russia. But at the same time, African leaders are very pragmatic, indiscriminately dealing with external players with adequate funds to invest in different economic sectors. Africa is in a globalized world. It is, generally, beneficial for Africa as it could take whatever are offered from either East or West, North or South.
In stark contrast to key global players for instance the United States, China and the European Union and many others, Russia has limitations. For Russia to regain part of its Soviet-era influence, it has to address its own policy approach, this time shifting towards new paradigms – implementing some of the decade-old pledges and promises, and those bilateral agreements; secondly to promote development-oriented policies and how to make these strategic efforts more practical, more consistent, more effective and most admirably result-oriented with African countries. 
Five months after the 9/11 attacks, US President George W. Bush asserted his acrid perception of the enemies of the United States by introducing the “Axis of Evil” forged by the tripartite entity of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. Ironically, none of the criminals involved in the terrorist attacks trailed back to either of these three nationalities. However, that anecdotal coinage was enough to serve as a preamble for the ultimate invasion of Iraq in 2003. Now two decades later, that phrase was conveniently reforged by a Russian parliamentarian, touting the Axis of Good shaped by Russia via converging Iran and China on the anti-American rhetoric. While calling it ‘good’ is a long stretch given the backdrop of the ravaging war waged by Putin, the underlying tenets are not as complex as shrugged off by the western coalition. And while the Cold War 2.0 is still a distant possibility, the birth of this new world order is visible – though not entirely material.
Putin’s first international visit, beyond the borders of the née Soviet Union, was to Iran last week. The official rationale was a tripartite discourse on the Syrian policy with Iran and Turkey. But no one could be that naive to accept the statement as is. The trilateral meeting was a statement of power; a representation of options – for all three countries involved.
Turkey is portraying its political artistry in the region. It is courting the Western alliance through its veto power over the NATO membership of Finland and Sweden. Simultaneously, Erdoğan is flirting with Russian favors by mediating negotiations with Ukraine and convening on crucial regional issues (like Syria) with Putin despite his brutal western alienation. While supplying arms to the Ukrainian front, Turkey has also refused to comply with Western sanctions against Russia. Consequently, these dichotomous policies have rapidly positioned Erdoğan as a strategic champion, indispensable to the United States and Russia. And admittedly, this strategic gameplan works wonders and could yield another electoral win for Erdoğan in the 2023 General Elections – despite his disastrous mismanagement of the Turkish economy.
It is obvious why Putin wants to highlight his political brinkmanship by rekindling a unique alliance with Iran. It is a pronouncement that the Kremlin is fully prepared for a reshuffle in power dynamics of the region – spurred by the invasion of Ukraine but catalyzed by the eastward expansion of NATO. Putin’s renewed affection for Iran could also be construed as a response to Biden’s dismal visit to the Middle East and his failed attempt to woo the Saudi Kingdom. However, Iran is a staunch enemy of Israel – a sentiment not shared by Russia. And thus, the extent to this peculiar alliance has inherent limits. Nonetheless, Israel is not as pivotal to the long-term imperialistic goals of Putin as Iran – especially when the colluding factor is the shared hatred for American supremacy.
For Iran, the expectations are easier to unravel. The nuclear deal is still in limbo as the hardline leadership of Ebrahim Raisi refuses to mediate leverage to the beleaguered US Democratic Party. Recently, referring to the Western parties in the nuclear accord, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani reiterated that the Islamic Republic will “not sacrifice the country’s fundamental interests with a rushed process.” The Iranian purview has legibly hardened after the ill-timed discourse between Biden and Yair Lapid – the Prime Minister of Israel. Biden’s frivolous remarks regarding Iran did not help the western view of containment. And prompting action to “stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons by any means, including military, as a last resort,” and attempting to muster a Gulf alliance against Iran – all actions were unneeded given the backdrop of an essential deal hanging by a loose thread.
Contrary to Biden’s hapless efforts, the Gulf states – including the UAE and Saudi Arabia – are mulling to rewire their frayed diplomatic relations with Iran. In a recent interview, Anwar Gangash – the diplomatic adviser to President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan – stated that “the conversation is ongoing,” and the UAE is “in the process of sending an ambassador to Tehran. All these areas of rebuilding bridges are ongoing.” Even the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS) voiced his aspirations in an interview with The Atlantic earlier in March, stating: “[Iran and Saudi Arabia] are neighbors. Neighbors forever. We cannot get rid of them, and they can’t get rid of us. So it’s better for both of us to work it out and to look for ways in which we can coexist.” The trajectory of the Middle East is seemingly tilting toward a regional concord – beyond the lines of sectarian and ideological differences consistently exploited by successive American regimes in the past. And thus, Iran’s collusion with Russia (and the Gulf states) could lead the Islamic Republic away from its hardcore resentment for Israel – at least shortly. But it would also integrate Iran into a parallel bloc unscathed by American restrictions – whether it panders to human rights watch, economic sanctions, or international isolation.
In a high-profile meeting with Putin, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei unequivocally voiced his support for the Russian invasion, stating: “War is a violent and difficult issue, and the Islamic Republic is in no way happy that civilians get caught up in it, but concerning Ukraine, had you not taken the initiative, the other side [NATO] would have taken the initiative and caused the war.” Such an explicit assertion is not dependent on any detailed analysis or interpretation. Iran is unambiguously throwing its weight behind Putin to advance the Russian claims against the US. And the excuse of a palpable competition in the market for sanctioned oil is simply wishful thinking – stemming from western think tanks. Despite sanctions, Russia has already surpassed its budgetary revenue estimates from fossil fuel imports. And according to Elvira Nabiullina – the Governor of the Russian Central Bank –  Russia would categorically refuse to sell oil to countries attempting to place a price cap on Russian energy supplies. The gas supplies through the Nord Stream 1 (NS1) pipeline have already squeezed down to 20% of capacity. Thus, demand would not be an issue when Europe freezes; Biden falls out of favor in the forthcoming winter. And while a recession could undercut the abnormal commodities and fuel prices inadvertently financing Russia’s war in Ukraine, it would also debilitate Europe’s ability to wean off Russian energy – especially Germany (the plinth of the European economy and a manufacturing hub). Hence, Iran – a member of the OPEC+ alliance alongside Russia – would gain significant leverage in the broader market when the Western defiance loses its luster in the face of domestic economic misery.
China, contrary to Iran, has been particularly distant from the fiasco in Europe, tip-toeing the fine line between condoning/censuring the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, by no means can we count China as neutral. Even India, a bellwether partner of the US, is not a neutral player as it continues to profiteer off discounted Russian oil despite Western reservations. China has remained critical of the US response against Russia, terming the sanctions as illegal and immoral. China continues to fill Russian coffers by procuring sanctioned oil despite its ongoing economic slowdown. And China refuses to denounce the Russian aggression in spite of insistence from European allies. While I admit it is idealistic to assume that Beijing would outright support the anti-western rhetoric reflected by Moscow or Tehran, it would supposedly back any alliance that shapes parallel supremacy in the transatlantic order. Hypothetically, it would not only allow Beijing to set a cornerstone in the Middle Eastern and European politics, but it would also ensure diversified energy supplies for its industries and investment avenues in the region. Ultimately, I believe that China, though not yet open to complete defiance of the western world order, would still support a fledging rivalry on the global diplomatic canvas – reinforced by the regional sway of Iran and Russia.
Over the last few decades, the United States has tirelessly pursued a policy of pressure and surrender. In Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria – you name it! The US has vaguely defined a diplomatic code that suits the pseudo-liberal definition of its goals and means in any region. And it has rallied neighboring nations in various parts of the globe (based on this subjective code) against an isolated regime to etch dominance in any region. Biden is not trying to deviate from this traditional course of American foreign policy. Albeit, he is relatively less bombastic about it than his Republican predecessors. Yet the world has evolved beyond the unipolar political skeleton observed in the post-Cold War era. Today the world is intricately globalized and perilously interdependent. The US cannot undercut the economic rise of China without inflicting severe damage to its own productivity. European economies – like Germany and Hungary – cannot shed their dependence on Russian energy without facing a significant economic slowdown and a painful recession. And the Middle East cannot stabilize by normalizing relations with Israel while simultaneously isolating a belligerent Iran in its periphery. Ultimately, I believe the constituents of this new world order are indispensable – even under the hood of harmony apparently envisioned by the Western coalition. And hence, the potency (or villainy) of this synergized axis would largely depend on the conciliatory (or retaliatory) role played by the United States in this recalibrated global political structure.
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The Pakistani Solution to the Nuclear Dispute with Iran
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