Putin discussed trade, energy, transport and the ongoing conflict in Syria during his meeting with Raisi, who is emerging as a key Moscow ally
Putin admitted Monday in a meeting with Kremlin officials that Western sanctions had created “colossal” difficulties for the Russian economy. He sought to expand trade with China, Asia and the Middle East to compensate for falling imports from the West. Putin’s only other international trip since invading Ukraine in February was late last month when he flew to Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
When meeting Raisi, he touted the growing business ties, sending a message to his Russian audience that while Western companies have left the country in droves, Moscow still has reliable friends.
“We can boast of record numbers in terms of business growth. We are strengthening our international security cooperation, making a significant contribution to the settlement of the Syrian crisis,” Putin said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said both Russia and Iran were used to Western sanctions, which was the price of their independence.
“Iran has been subject to sanctions of all kinds for decades … which we consider absolutely illegitimate from the point of view of international law,” Peskov said in comments to Iranian media broadcast on Iranian television. Russian state.
He said improving relations with Iran was “a long-term line of our foreign policy”, adding that a strategic cooperation agreement would likely be signed in the coming months.
The White House claimed Russia wanted to acquire surveillance drones from Iran for use in Ukraine, but Peskov said that was not on the agenda in Tehran.
The presence of Erdogan, who has tried to position himself as a mediator between Moscow and Kyiv, has raised hopes that he could help build on the progress made last week in Turkey, when Russia and Ukraine agreed on preliminary measures that would allow grain shipments to resume from Ukrainian ports.
Russia blocks Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, including the main port of Odessa, triggering a global food crisis as the price of basic necessities such as bread, cooking oil and fertilizers soar . Moscow denies responsibility for the crisis, instead blaming Western sanctions and insisting they be lifted. It is estimated that more than 100 ships loaded with grain are stranded in port or at sea.
UN officials, who are also helping broker the grain deal between Ukraine and Russia, said more work needed to be done. At a press conference on Monday, Farhan Haq, a spokesman for the UN secretary-general, said “we have no particular expectation” that a grain deal would emerge from the three-party meeting in Iran. Since the Istanbul talks last week, he added, “we believe that gradually there has been a bit more progress, but there is nothing to announce at this stage.”
Putin issued a similar note at the start of his meeting with Erdogan, saying: “It is true that not all problems have been resolved yet, but the fact that there is movement is already good.”
In Iran, leaders are also discussing Turkey’s plans for a military incursion into northern Syria, targeting a Kurdish-led militia allied with the United States. Ankara says the planned operation is aimed at repelling fighters affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which it considers a terrorist group.
But any military operation could bring Turkey into conflict with Iran and Russia, which are allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and have maintained military forces in the country.
Khamenei appeared to show his dissatisfaction with Erdogan during a meeting with him on Tuesday, saying a military attack was “definitely to the detriment of Syria, Turkey and the region”.
Putin’s visit comes days after President Biden visited Saudi Arabia and Israel, where he raised concerns that China and Russia are seeking to fill a power vacuum in the Middle East. “We cannot let this happen,” he said in Tel Aviv.
“There is a reality in the region with Russia at the center,” said Vali Nasr, professor of Middle Eastern studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “It thwarted the belief of the United States that the dynamic [in the region] talks about Israel and the Arabs uniting against Iran. The Putin-Erdogan-Raisi meetings show that there are other actors and dynamics beyond those in Riyadh last week.
Amid the trilateral talks, the National Iranian Oil Co. (NIOC) and Russian gas producer Gazprom on Tuesday signed a memorandum of understanding worth around $40 billion. Gazprom will help NIOC in the development of the Kish and North Pars gas fields as well as six oil fields, according to Iran’s Oil Ministry news agency Shana. Gazprom will also participate in the completion of liquefied natural gas projects and the construction of gas export pipelines.
Iran has the world’s second largest oil reserves after Russia, but Western sanctions have slowed the development of gas exports.
Sean Fanning in London contributed to this report.