US-Russian Relations in an Uncomfortable World Order

The telephone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump on January 29 was the first official contact between the two leaders since Trump’s investiture. The Kremlin has welcomed Trump’s promises to mend ties with Moscow, which have been strained by the Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria and allegations of Russian meddling in the US elections.

All of these points of contention to one side, one of the key objectives behind Trump’s outreach to Moscow is whether he can persuade Russia to turn away from Iran. In an article for Bloomberg Eli Lake states: “The Romanovs humiliated Iran in the 19th century with punitive treaties. Last summer tensions rose briefly when the Russians acknowledged they were flying air missions out of Iran into Syria. Iranian mistrust of Russia can be exploited with deft diplomacy.”

While Iranian-Russian interests often diverge, this scenario is highly unlikely. It is true that Iran and Russia are strange bedfellows. Indeed, their cooperation can at best be qualified as a tactical short-term alliance, which manifests in fits and spurts where strategic interests converge. However, what binds them together in the long term is a shared perception of the contemporary world order. While both countries oppose a US-dominated post-Cold War set-up in the Middle East, which played out in the coordinated military campaign to prop up the regime of Bashar al-Assad, they are aligned on deeper historical, ideological and identity-related issues that trump (pardon the pun) geopolitical dynamics.

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Russian Presidente Vladimir Putin at World Economic Forum in Davos, 2009. Photo by World Economic Forum / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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Ghoncheh Tazmini

Associate Researcher at CEI-IUL. Associate Member of the Centre for Iranian Studies at SOAS. She is the author of ‘Khatami’s Iran: the Islamic Republic and the Turbulent Path to Reform’ (London, I. B. Tauris, 2009, 2013) and ‘Revolution and Reform in Russia and Iran: Politics and Modernisation in Post-Revolutionary States’ (London, I. B. Tauris, 2012).

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