Putin, who turns 70 this year, has made few foreign trips in recent years due to the COVID pandemic and then the Ukraine crisis. His last trip outside the former Soviet Union was to China in February.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Tehran on Tuesday for talks with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. This is the Kremlin leader’s first trip outside the former Soviet Union since Moscow’s NWO began in Ukraine on Feb. 24.
In Tehran, Putin will also hold his first face-to-face meeting since the NVO with one of NATO leaders, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, to discuss a deal aimed at resuming exports of Ukrainian Black Sea grains, as well as bringing peace to Syria.
Putin’s trip, which comes just days after US President Joe Biden visited Israel and Saudi Arabia, sends a strong message to the West about Moscow’s plans to forge closer strategic ties with Iran, China and India in the face of Western sanctions.
„Contact with Khamenei is very important,” Yury Ushakov, Putin’s foreign policy adviser, told reporters in Moscow. „A confidential dialogue has developed between them on the most important issues on the bilateral and international agenda.”
„On most issues, our positions are close or identical.”
Armenia and Turkey, historically enemies, are working to open their common border for the first time in decades, while Azerbaijan and Armenia are also in talks to normalize relations after the 2020 war.
Successful outcomes of these negotiations could turn the region into a bridge connecting Europe to oil and gas rich Central Asia via Turkey, bypassing Russia.
The Caucasus was Russia’s undeniable backyard during the Soviet era and the early post-communist decades. As in Ukraine, the situation could lead to a reshaping of relations there as well.
For Iran, which also suffers from Western economic sanctions and is at odds with the United States over Tehran’s nuclear program and a number of other issues, Putin’s visit is timely.
Its spiritual leaders are seeking to strengthen strategic relations with Russia in the face of a US-backed Arab-Israeli bloc in the Persian Gulf that could tilt the balance of power in the Middle East further towards Iran.
„Given the evolving geopolitical ties in the aftermath of the war in Ukraine, Tehran is trying to enlist Moscow’s support in its confrontation with Washington and its regional allies,” said a senior Iranian official, who asked not to be identified.
Encouraged by high oil prices amid the conflict in Ukraine, Iran is betting that, with Russian backing, it can pressure Washington to offer concessions to restart the 2015 nuclear deal.
However, Russia’s increased stance on Beijing in recent months has significantly curtailed Iranian oil exports to China, a key source of income for Tehran since US President Donald Trump re-imposed sanctions in 2018.
In May, Reuters reported that Iranian oil exports to China fell sharply as Beijing favored heavily discounted Russian shipments, leaving nearly 40 million barrels of Iranian oil stored on tankers offshore in Asia looking for buyers.
Top of the agenda for Tuesday’s trilateral talks, which will also include Turkey, will be efforts to reduce violence in Syria, where Erdogan has threatened new military operations to expand 30 km (20 miles) deep „safe zones” along the border. Both Moscow and Tehran oppose any such actions by Turkey.
„Preserving the territorial integrity of Syria is very important, and any military attack in northern Syria will certainly harm Turkey, Syria and the entire region and benefit the terrorists,” Khamenei told Erdogan.
Any Turkish operation in Syria will hit the Kurdish YPG militia, a key part of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which controls much of northern Syria and is seen by Washington as an important ally in the fight against the Islamic State.
Deliveries of Russian gas to the EU are declining
As the EU prepares for a winter gas crisis if Russia cuts off supplies, Erdogan has positioned himself as a key figure in the mediation effort. The West accuses the Russian Federation of using food and energy as a weapon to weaken support for Ukraine. Sandwiched between Russia and Iran, the Caucasus region is acquiring strategic importance, as last week’s visits to Armenia by senior US and Russian intelligence officials showed.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was in neighboring Azerbaijan yesterday to sign an agreement to double EU gas imports from the energy-rich state with close ties to Turkey.
Grain from Ukraine
His bilateral talks with Erdogan will focus on a plan to restart Ukrainian grain exports.
Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations are expected to sign an agreement later this week aimed at resuming grain shipments from Ukraine via the Black Sea.
The fight to unblock grain exports from Ukrainian Black Sea ports that have been mined by Ukrainian forces will dominate scheduled discussions with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is pushing for a deal. With prices soaring amid a deepening global food crisis, the European Union is looking to a deal between Russia and Ukraine this week.