Why Russia Won’t Help Trump On Iran

Moscow Needs Tehran More Than Ever

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ufa, Russia, July 2015. Sergei Karpukhin / REUTERS

By all appearances, the Donald Trump administration is preparing to attempt a historic reconciliation with Russia. In part, the strategy is aimed at driving a wedge into the long-running strategic partnership between Moscow and Tehran. With the proper incentives, the thinking goes, it might be possible to “flip” Russia. “There’s daylight between Russia and Iran, for sure,” one foreign official familiar with the White House’s deliberations explained. “What’s unclear is what [Russian President Vladimir] Putin would demand in return for weakening the alliance.”

The new president and his advisers may soon find, however, that precipitating a Russian-Iranian split is an exceedingly tall order. The past decade has provided ample proof that the military, political, and economic bonds that Russia and the Islamic Republic have built over the past quarter-century are remarkably resilient. And today, there is reason to believe that the strategic partnership between the two countries is stronger than ever.


In 2005, speaking before the prestigious Munich Security Conference, Putin famously remarked that the collapse of the Soviet Union marked the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century.” The years since have seen Putin pursue a foreign policy centered in large part on recreating a modified version of the old Soviet sphere of influence. 

In military terms, this has meant creating or supporting security blocs, such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, that are tethered to the Kremlin and are designed to further Russian strategic priorities in the Eurasian theater. On the economic front, Putin has put forth an alternative to the EU, known broadly as the Eurasian Economic Union. Although it can hardly be called a resounding success, the union is nonetheless a viable construct. It boasts four members in addition to Russia (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan) and is currently contemplating the addition of two more (Mongolia and Tajikistan).

Russian military jets at Khmeimim Air Base, Syria, June 2016.  Vadim Savitsky / Russian Defense Ministry / REUTERS

Politically, meanwhile, Moscow has invested enormous capital in building closer ties with countries such as Belarus, and to assorted Central Asian regimes

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