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By Christina Georgaki
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Tehran must not be allowed to help Russia heap more pain on Ukraine

4 min read

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s choice of Tehran as the destination for his first overseas trip since ordering the invasion of Ukraine was an appropriate one. Aside from Iran parroting Russia’s lies blaming the West for the invasion, the two countries have been working together for the past seven years to shore up the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

A brutal campaign which has showed scant regard for human life and repeatedly crossed international law’s red lines, the war waged by the Moscow-Tehran axis in Syria is a wretched blueprint for the atrocities Putin has unleashed on Ukraine.

Despite huge differences, the wars in Ukraine and Syria are a reminder that, while Iran and Russia are each capable of wreaking bloodshed and havoc alone, in alliance they pose a formidable force. They also serve to underline what binds Moscow and Tehran together: a desire to tear down the international order, a hatred for the liberal democratic West, and an overweening desire to spread their power and influence by the force of arms.

Putin and Ayatollah Khamenei have drawn closer together since the invasion of Ukraine in part because they are both internationally ostracised. This alliance of international outcasts can do much for each other – to the huge detriment of the rest of us.  

The pay-off for Iran’s support in Putin’s hour of need is likely to be considerable

Thanks to declassified United States intelligence released by the White House, we now know that Iran is planning to transfer hundreds of drones to Russia, as well as providing training to Russian operators. Tehran has already been boasting of the devastation these weapons can sow both in terms of destroying precious Ukrainian military hardware and assisting with directing Russian artillery fire.

But Iran, which leads Russia in prioritising drone development, may end up doing more than simply replenishing the depleted stocks of Putin’s faltering war machine. As Farzin Nadimi, an expert in Iranian security and defence policy, has warned, the delivery of drones “will likely sound the starting gun for further bilateral military cooperation in Ukraine”. Although, he suggests, it’s not yet clear whether the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force will deploy proxy forces to Ukraine – as it has done in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen – the move could “open the way for delivery of more controversial weapons such as short-range Iranian ballistic missiles”.

The pay-off for Iran’s support in Putin’s hour of need is likely to be considerable. On the political and economic front, at a time when soaring food prices are threatening to destabilise regimes in the region, Russia is thought likely to supply Iran with more wheat. Over the longer-term, Russia has given the green light to Tehran concluding a free trade deal with its Eurasian Economic Forum. And Gazprom has signed an oil and gas agreement – said to be worth $40bn (£34.4bn) – with Iran.

While Russia has remained part of the P5+1 talks to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, it has long been apparent that its interests and those of the West are fundamentally misaligned. Having stalled progress in recent months – as Iran all the while increases its nuclear stockpile – Moscow continues to attempt to scupper any chance of an improvement in relations between Tehran and the West.

With Labour’s backing, the government has rightly been working with our international allies to take tougher action against Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine. But, as Labour Friends of Israel argued  in a publication earlier this summer, it’s high time Britain developed a comprehensive approach to tackling the multi-faceted threat posed by Iran.

The UK should immediately proscribe the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which, it has been reported was in contact with the man charged with stabbing Salman Rushdie; use the new Magnitsky Act sanctions regime to take action against human rights abuses inside Iran; ask Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee to investigate the government’s use of its powers against Hezbollah since the terror group was proscribed in its entirety in 2019; and urgently draw up plans to combat and disrupt the threat posed by Iranian disinformation in Britain and internationally.  

The Iranian regime’s malevolent behaviour was apparent since the 1979 revolution. Its alliance with Putin is further evidence of the threat it poses and that we have allowed Tehran to go unchecked and unchallenged for far too long.

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