The Azadi stadium in Tehran may not be full, but on March 23 the kick-off, given by Lokomotiv Moscow midfielder Anton Mirantchouk, sounds like a small victory for Russia. Excluded from all international sports competition since the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, its national team no longer crowds the lawns of football pitches outside the country. The Russian players scored first, before the Iranian equalizer rebalanced the score of this friendly match, more diplomatic than sporting, at the start of the second half. The two countries have long been looking for areas of convergence.
For his first trip abroad, on January 19, 2022, six months after his election, Iranian President Ebrahim Raïsi had already chosen Russian territory. An ultra-conservative figure in the regime, the man has the reputation of belonging to his pro-Kremlin faction. Landing in Moscow, he nurtured the hope of realizing an ambitious project: a strategic partnership between Iran and Russia. The proposal, which is old, is sometimes a sea serpent between the two countries, but Mr. Raïssi intends to see it through. “The level of our trade and economic exchanges is not satisfactory. This document offers us prospects for at least twenty years”, he pleads, at the end of the warm meeting with his Russian counterpart. Triggered a month later, the Russian invasion of Ukraine sends everything waltzing. The very idea of a 20-year perspective looks like science fiction, and Ebrahim Raïssi’s proposal has been shelved. However, without the slightest official document being signed, the relationship between Moscow and Tehran has steadily intensified to an unprecedented level – precisely thanks to the Ukrainian conflict.
Six months later, on July 19, 2022, it was the turn of Vladimir Putin – who is making his first trip outside the former countries of the USSR since he launched his troops against Kiev – to go to Tehran. Officially to relaunch the Astana process, concerning Syria, which involves Russian, Iranian and Turkish actors. But his one-on-one with Mr. Raisi and then with Imam Ali Khamenei, above all highlights the importance of the ties forged between the two countries, that the war in Ukraine and the confrontation between Russia and the West spectacularly close. As an echo, the Iranian Supreme Guide also echoes the Kremlin’s rhetoric, according to which “NATO was preparing an attack against Russia”.
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