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Putin's Trip to Iran Shows Russia's ‘Desperation,' Says U.S. Institute of Peace

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  • Russian President Vladimir Putin likely wanted to show that Moscow is still important in the Middle East by visiting Iran, but instead, the trip shows "a bit of desperation," according to John Drennan of the U.S. Institute of Peace.
  • Putin met with Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to notices on the Kremlin's website published Tuesday.
  • National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Putin's Iran trip "shows the degree to which Mr. Putin and Russia are increasingly isolated."

Russian President Vladimir Putin likely wanted to show that Moscow is still important in the Middle East by visiting Iran, but instead, the trip shows "a bit of desperation," according to John Drennan of the U.S. Institute of Peace.

The goal was to have a discussion with Iran and Turkey's leaders about the peace process in Syria, said Drennan, who is a senior program officer at the USIP's Center for Russia and Europe.

Putin met with Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to notices on the Kremlin's website published Tuesday.

"We are strengthening our cooperation on international security and making a tangible contribution to settling the Syrian conflict," Putin said.

Putin also met with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Iran.

"I think the Russians would spin the meeting as a demonstration that they're not actually isolated, they're still a major player in the Middle East," he told CNBC's "Squawk Box Asia" on Wednesday.

"But I do think, to [National Security Council spokesman John Kirby's] point, it does show a bit of desperation that the Russians are having to go to the Iranians for military support," he added.

Earlier, Kirby told reporters at the White House that the trip "shows the degree to which Mr. Putin and Russia are increasingly isolated."

"Now they have to turn to Iran for help," he said.

Russia's press service and information department did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

Interest in Iranian drones

The White House said Russian officials have viewed weapons-capable drones in Iran that Moscow may want to acquire for its war in Ukraine.

Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum on Wednesday, CIA Director William Burns said Russia's interest in Iranian drones is a reflection of "the deficiencies of Russia's defense industry today, the difficulties they're having after significant losses so far in the war against Ukraine and replenishing their stocks as well."

"Russians and Iranians need each other right now. Both heavily sanctioned countries, both looking to break out of political isolation as well," he added.

Burns said the countries want to help each other evade sanctions and show they have options, but there are limits to how much they can cooperate. He said Tehran and Moscow don't really trust each other because they are energy rivals and historical competitors.

The competition over exporting sanctioned energy is a structural issue that is preventing deep Russia-Iran relations, USIP's Drennan said.

Still, the two sides are close to signing a strategic cooperation agreement, Russian state news agency Tass reported. Iran's Shana news agency this week reported that the National Iranian Oil Company and Russia's Gazprom signed a memorandum of understanding worth around $40 billion.

Iran is allies with Qatar and signed a cooperation agreement with China in 2021, but is an adversary to regional power Saudi Arabia and has strained relations with the UAE and Bahrain.

The U.S. reimposed sanctions on Iran after former President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal.

Western countries also slapped punishing sanctions on Russia after it invaded Ukraine in February.

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