The timing is crucial and not a coincidence. Just days after the President Joe Biden visited Israel and Saudi Arabia and vowed the US was ready to use “all elements of its national power” to stop a common enemy, Iranfrom acquisition nuclear weapons, who should show up in the Iranian capital? Vladimir Putin.
And when the dark lord of the Kremlin pays a rare visit outside of Russia, Western countries shiver. For good reason.
Iran is a pariah state for America, Britain and their allies. Its nuclear ambitions and the ayatollahs’ support for terrorism have turned the Islamic Republic into a bogeyman.
Just days after President Joe Biden visited Israel and Saudi Arabia and vowed the US was ready to use “all elements of its national power” to prevent a common enemy, Iran, from acquiring nuclear weapons, who should show up in the Iranian capital? Wladimir Putin
For much of his presidency, Putin has had no more interest than the West in a nuclear-armed Iran flexing its muscles. Moscow’s support for the ayatollahs would not only have damaged Russia’s economic ties with the West, but it also has overlapping regional interests with Iran.
Then Putin invaded Ukraine, was hit hard by sanctions – Russia has overtaken Iran as the world’s most sanctioned economy – and suddenly anything was possible.
Today there are fears that Putin is doubling down and now intending to turn his own nation – with a vast nuclear arsenal already in place – into yet another mega-Iran as far as the West is concerned.
His meeting with hard-line Iranian leaders in Tehran this week, along with another guest, Turkish President Erdogan, was reportedly to discuss Syria. But the summit is a showcase for a newly emerging anti-Western, anti-democratic alliance stretching from the fringes of Eastern Europe to the South China Sea — with Mother Russia at its heart.
It’s a terrifying prospect. Today, more than 30 years after the end of the Cold War, the war in Ukraine and Western condemnation have created a new Cold War with Russia, given a sinister twist by the shifting alliances of modern geopolitics.
I’m calling this emerging battle “World War Z,” after the letter affixed to Russian tanks in Ukraine, a symbol that sums up Putin’s outright rejection of the West.
The relationship between Russia and the West has long been a love-hate relationship. For 300 years, since Peter the Great founded Putin’s birthplace of St. Petersburg as a “window to the West,” Russia has had a complex relationship with our free, democratic society.
All hopes that Putin would imitate his hero Tsar Peter and try to copy the West were dashed five months ago with his attack on Ukraine. Since then, the Kremlin’s propaganda machine has launched hysterical attacks on the US and its European allies.
And when the dark lord of the Kremlin pays a rare visit outside of Russia, Western countries shiver. For good reason
This endless demonization of the West reflects what the Iranian ayatollahs have been doing for a generation or more: for them America has long been the “big satan” while Britain was “the little satan”.
Against this background, we should take the words of Putin’s foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov, as a warning, however veiled in the language of international diplomacy. Speaking to reporters, he stressed that a “trustful dialogue” has developed between Russia and Iran and stated that “our positions on most issues are close or identical.”
In any case, there is no doubt that a budding bond exists between the two countries. Aside from sharing common enemies in the West, Russia and Iran are developing cooperation in military technology (US intelligence has warned that Russia is searching for hundreds of Iranian drones to be stationed in Ukraine) and their gas – and oil industry.
Russia has just signed a huge oil development deal with Iran, while reactivating the transportation routes between the two nations — ironically created by the Americans to send aid to Stalin against Nazi Germany — that have been largely redundant since the end of World War II.
Cut off from Western-provided technology since the start of the war in Ukraine, Russia is also capitalizing on Iran’s longstanding expertise in circumventing sanctions and finding replacements.
Erdogan’s presence while this friendship is snowing is another serious cause for concern. Under his leadership, Turkey, once a western-facing, secular nation, has become increasingly autocratic. It has long shifted its interests and policies away from Western democracies to more troubling regimes in the East.
Nor does Turkey’s NATO membership, in which it plays the role of the Trojan horse, trying to trade remnants of cooperation with the West for a better deal with Russia, from which it gets so much, offers much consolation oil and gas.
We underestimate the strength of their shared ideologies at our peril: While Turkey may be on a different side of the fence from Russia and Iran on the conflict in Syria, Russia and Iran together support the Assad regime in Syria while the Turkey supports those who rebel against it – all three nations are united in opposition to the country’s pro-American Kurds.
Meanwhile, behind this new tripartite alliance, China is emerging. As a huge industrial nation starving for resources, China wants access to cheap Russian and Iranian oil and gas, as well as Russian grain, which both nations are only too happy to sell to them.
They, too, share something of a common ideology: Like Vladimir Putin, China’s President Xi Jinping believes his society is more resilient than ours, a notion shared by Stalin and Hitler in the past.
In time, both regimes have been defeated, while 70 years later, ex-Soviet Ukraine faces the tyrant in the Kremlin.
We are all impressed by the Ukrainian people’s amazing resilience in the face of Russian aggression, but while Putin’s invasion may have stalled, a looming wintry energy crisis in Europe, particularly Germany, will test the West’s resolve to defy him place.
As Europe’s knees buckle as temperatures drop, the US and UK must strengthen the backbone of our allies.
Nor should we delude ourselves that a ceasefire in Ukraine would mean a return to normalcy. The horrors that have unfolded in recent months have caused a seismic shift in how Russia deals with the West and how we deal with Russia.
This endless demonization of the West reflects what the Iranian ayatollahs have been doing for a generation or more: for them America has long been the “big satan” while Britain was “the little satan”. Against this background, we should take the words of Putin’s foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov, as a warning, however veiled in the language of international diplomacy
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi meet July 19 in Tehran, Iran, ahead of a summit of leaders of the Astana Process guarantor states aimed at finding a peace solution to the Syrian conflict
And this week’s Tehran summit, Vladimir Putin’s flamboyant embrace of Iran and Turkey, is evidence that he is realigning Russia for the long haul — not just for his lifetime, but for his successors as well.
A new intergenerational rivalry between the West and Putin’s pariah alliance is emerging.
In the first Cold War, the West struggled with both communist ideology and Russian power, looming threats that frightened us for years.
Today the threat has changed and comes in the form of a permanently banned Russia, a vast Eurasian state in partnership with China, Iran and other pariah states – a threat spreading throughout the northern hemisphere.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that this emerging threat may be an even greater rival to the West than the old Soviet bloc – and we must quickly rediscover the stamina we had in the 20th century to face it.
- Mark Almond is Director of the Crisis Research Institute, Oxford.