Iranian and Russian defense ministers discussed ways to further enhance military cooperation between the two countries in a telephone conversation on Thursday, the Iranian media reported. Brigadier General Amir Hatami and his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoygu reviewed the latest regional and international developments and assessed the status of cooperation between Iranian and Russian military forces. Hatami reportedly told Shoygu that the United States is increasing pressure on Iran partly because of Tehran’s close counterterrorism cooperation with Moscow, particularly in Syria.
The Russian defense minister, according to the Iranian media, also stressed that the two countries should expand their defense and military cooperation. Shoygu also reiterated Moscow’s support for the Iran nuclear deal. “Russia affirms Iran’s commitment to the nuclear agreement and there is no need for abrogating the deal or for others to leave the JCPOA,” the Russian defense minister reportedly said about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the nuclear deal Iran signed with world powers in 2015.
Comment: This was the first exchange of views between the two countries’ defense ministers since President Hassan Rouhani appointed Hatami to the post after his reelection earlier this year.
Relations between Moscow and Tehran improved significantly in recent years. The two countries have had a convergence of interest in supporting the embattled Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. Moscow’s deteriorating relations with the United States and European powers have also pushed the Kremlin closer to Tehran. Furthermore, the lifting of most international sanctions on Iran in January 2016 has allowed Moscow to nurture closer economic and trade ties with Tehran. The volume of bilateral trade between Iran and Russia have increased by more than 80 percent in the past one year and the sides have signed an agreement for the supply of around $10 billion worth of Russian arms and military hardware to Iran.
Despite cooperation in Syria and a boost in trade relations, however, the relationship between Russia and Iran remains more a marriage of convenience than a strategic alliance. A history of distrust and divergence of interests continue to hinder the two countries’ tactical cooperation from translating into a strategic relationship.