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Russia steps in to improve military ties with Iran

Atul Aneja
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Russia’s top air force commander discusses air defence with Iran

General Amir Ali Hajizadeh (left), head of the aerospace forces of the Iran's Revolutionary Guards, handing a copy of the Iranian drone ‘Yassir’ ScanEagle to Russian General Viktor Bondarev in Tehran on Monday.— PHOTO: AFP
General Amir Ali Hajizadeh (left), head of the aerospace forces of the Iran's Revolutionary Guards, handing a copy of the Iranian drone ‘Yassir’ ScanEagle to Russian General Viktor Bondarev in Tehran on Monday.— PHOTO: AFP

After consolidating in Syria, Russia is set to expand military ties with Iran, as part of its bid to re-emerge as a major player in the Levant and Gulf.

Russia’s top air force commander, Lieutenant General Viktor Bondarev, is in Tehran to define a common military agenda — apparently to deter air strikes against Iran, and to ward off the possibility of “regime change” through armed external intervention.

In talks on Sunday with Brigadier General Farzad Esmayeeli, the commander of Iran’s Khatam ol-Anbia air defence base, the Russian official focused on air defence tactics. The stress on air defence is natural, as Iran apprehends a potent threat of massive air strikes by Israel and the U.S. against its well-dispersed atomic infrastructure, apparently to undermine its perceived nuclear weapon ambitions.

Iran’s Fars News Agency (FNA) is reporting that the two commanders also discussed missile systems, a veiled reference to the game-changing S-300 air-defence missiles that Moscow had contracted for, but reneged from supplying Tehran, citing the passage of the U.N. sanctions against Iran as the impediment. Russia’s refusal to part with the S-300 missiles, which can down high-speed incoming missiles and aircraft, has since emerged as a major irritant in Moscow-Tehran ties.

But with the geopolitical situation transforming rapidly following attempts at regime change in Syria by prominent Gulf States and western powers, the Iranians are showing fresh willingness to reinforce their military bonds with Moscow. Analysts point out that Iran and Russia are committed to the prevention of regime-change in Damascus, fearing that such an eventuality would expose energy-rich Iran, situated on the crossroads of the Gulf, Central Asia, Europe and Caucasia, to a dangerous level of subversion.

Expressing its readiness to forge special military ties with Moscow, Iran’s leadership took recourse to an unusual headline-grabbing gesture. On Monday, Gen. Esmayeeli handed over the Russian visitor a model of the U.S. ScanEagle drone that the naval component of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had captured last year, and later reverse-engineered.

“The drone built by the IRGC is a symbol of the technical capabilities of the Islamic Iran and today we presented a real model of it as a gift to [Russian Air Force Commander] lieutenant General Viktor Bondarev and the Russian people,” said Gen. Esmayeeli.

Hoping to fast-track military ties, Moscow and Tehran are working hard to overcome the S-300 hurdle. According to FNA, the Russians have offered Iran Tor air defence systems as an alternative to the S-300 missiles. But Tehran may be more inclined to consider acquisitions of the Antei-2500 missiles as these weapons are used to protect mobile ground troops from aerial attack — an aspect that appeals to Iran, which would depend on large deployment of land forces in any future combat.

Russia’s attempt to weave a durable security relationship with Iran follows its inroads into Syria. Diplomatic sources say that Moscow’s military footprint in Syria has qualitatively expanded following the Russia-brokered deal, which commits Damascus to shed its arsenal of chemical weapons. In return for chemical disarmament, Syria has sought and obtained security guarantees that allow Moscow to enmesh a deep rooted military relationship with Damascus.

Russia has also steadily expanded ties with the Lebanese Hizbollah — a top ally of Syria and Iran.


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