Chapter 12. Long Time No Strategic Partnership: Sources of (In)Coherence between Russia and Iran

April 15, 2024

Over the past 30 years the coverage of Russia-Iran relationships has been characterized by two intriguing features. Each time they seemed to be on the rise, politicians, scholars, and journalists would claim they reached the level they had never been in history[1]. And each time they debated whether these relationships constituted a strategic partnership[2]. The term strategic partnership implies high level of trust, cooperation, and alignment of interests on a broad range of issues. While there have been instances of cooperation, the extent to which Russia and Iran can be considered strategic partners is open to interpretation[3].

An overall picture

The SWOT-analysis framework will help to capture the key points of recent publications on the relationships between Moscow and Tehran. Strengths and weaknesses refer to the internal nature of their cooperation or lack thereof, while opportunities and threats provide insight into the external environment that affects bilateral relationships.


1) Geographic proximity to unshared land border;
2) Shared views on international order.
1) Similar value proposition in international markets (both export energy resources), hence poor foundation for economic cooperation;
2) Iranian deep-rooted historical lack of trust in Russia;
3) Disagreements in political circles of the two countries over the coincidence of Russian and Iranian interests;
4) Underdeveloped societal ties;
5) Poor understanding of bureaucratic and business cultures of one another. 
1) Joint shaping of a new world order (SCO, BRICS);
2) Joint efforts to address regional conflicts (Syria, Afghanistan, 3+3);
3) Joint pursuit of effective measures to develop under sanctions pressure;
4) Maximizing Iran’s logistics potential for Russia to adapt to changing value chains and trade routes. 
1) Dependence of Russia-Iran relationships on the third parties’ influence.
SWOT-Analysis of Russia-Iran Relationships.
Compiled by the author based on open sources

Internal strengths

It is only the Caspian Sea that separates Russia and Iran. This proximity enables cooperation in the economic, environmental, political, and military fields. Meanwhile, the absence of a common land border, unlike in the Soviet period, helps to eliminate potential territorial conflicts and fears of external interference similar to the historical episode that Iran faced between 1941 and 1946. This geopolitical proximity between Russia and Iran deserves to be emphasized because these two countries, while pursuing different national interests and geopolitical strategies, have found themselves in opposition to the West, in particular to the United States and NATO. Russia and Iran seek to assert their influence in the international arena by upholding the following principles of international governance:

  • Equality, non-interference, respect for diversity and international law. Russia and Iran agree on the significance of the sovereign equality of countries while also highlighting the importance of respecting cultural, political, and religious diversity worldwide. They also oppose forcing on somebody this or that type of governance or lifestyle, instead they advocate the right of each nation to determine its own trajectory. They strongly disapprove of the interference in other countries’ affairs, such as regime changes, revolutions and sanctions seen as the tools used by Western nations to control others[4]. In addition, Russia and Iran advocate strict compliance with international law and agreements, placing significant importance on the United Nations and the Security Council, where Russia holds its veto power. They firmly assert that international law must be applied uniformly to all countries, devoid of any political prejudices or selective standards that they attribute to Western nations. The United States is deemed responsible for the disruption of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the Minsk Agreements[5], which reduces the credibility of cooperation with Western powers for both countries.
  • Multipolarity. The concept of multipolarity is strongly supported by Russia and Iran, where any nation or alliance has no excessive power or superiority. According to their point of view, a multipolar system will increase the level of international engagement of many major powers such as Russia, China, and regional blocs, and make a significant impact on global governance. This could provide for an even realignment of power in the world prevent the countries from exerting unnecessary influence[6].
  • Inclusive regional security architecture and cooperation mechanisms. Both countries support diplomatic and multilateral strategies for preventing and resolving conflicts, focusing on involving only relevant parties from the respective regions. Therefore, they advocate addressing security issues in Eurasia and the Middle East without the United States and NATO taking part. By strengthening regional cooperation mechanisms, they aim to enhance regional stability to counterbalance Western alliances. Bright examples of such mechanisms include the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)[7] and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU)[8].
  • Reformed global governance institutions and strengthening economic sovereignty. Russia and Iran, with some variations, seek to carry out reforms in global governance structures such as the UN, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, with a view to more effectively promote the interests of developing nations and better reflecting the current dynamics of power in the world. They claim that Western countries currently exert a disproportionate influence in these institutions. Of a particular concern is the ability of Iran and Russia to withstand economic pressure, a matter that set the stage for the cooperative declaration between the two countries in December 2023[9]. Especially relevant for Iran is the concept of a resistant economy, as it aims to be able to fight against economic pressures, including sanctions. Similarly, Russia is looking for ways to protect its economy from Western sanctions and foster economic autonomy. In both cases, BRICS is seen as the platform where future regulations and the structure of global governance can be discussed[10].

These common principles and views between Russia and Iran highlight their mutual interest in maintaining a global order that is less dominated by Western nations and that contribute to their national sovereignty and regional objectives.

Internal weaknesses

The key weakness of Russia-Iran relationships is that both economies are dependent on oil and gas exports, which makes them vulnerable to fluctuations in global energy prices, but more so – they have less to offer one another rather than the world. It makes more sense to sell oil and gas to China in exchange for technology and goods, but that model does not work between Russia and Iran. Hence, poor foundation for economic cooperation: around 85 percent of the 4.6 billion dollars trade in 2022 fell to share of agricultural products, mostly thanks to the increased wheat export from Russia to Iran[11].

Another weakness has much to do with the negative historical memory of the Iranians. Russia and Iran have had a complicated relationship. Persia lost territories to the Russian Empire in the 19th century through the Treaty of Gulistan (1813) and the Treaty of Turkmanchay (1828) following the Russo-Persian Wars (1804-1813; 1826-1828). Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries Russia exercised considerable political and economic influence on Iran. During the Great Game, a period of rivalry between the British Empire and the Russian Empire for supremacy in Central Asia, Iran became a focus of imperial maneuvering. World War II (WWII)  (1939-1945) saw the deployment of Soviet and British military in Iran, and though under the 1921 bilateral treaty provisions the USSR had the right to intervene in Iran for security purposes, together with the subsequent support for separatist movements in the Iranian Azerbaijan and Kurdistan, these developments cast a shadow on the historical perception of Russia in Iran.

The underlying distrust fosters disagreements in Iranian political circles, part of which is wary of Russian intentions in the region and its reliability as a long-term partner. Russian political elite has different views on the mutuality of Russian and Iranian interests as well. Both the underdeveloped societal ties, apart from the official level, and poor understanding of bureaucratic and business cultures of one another prevent from laying a solid foundation for the type of partnership the Russian and Iranian leadership seek to build.

Common external threat to opportunities

Nonetheless, the external environment offers opportunities for collaboration. Iran’s eventual accession to the SCO as a full member as well as its membership in BRICS are seen as steps towards greater alignment with the aim of shaping of a new world order. The ideas of multipolarity and economic sovereignty spread beyond the dominant group of Western nations happen to be appealing not only to countries who are already in conflict with the West, but those who seek to boost their leverage in the international arena. The BRICS enlargement, albeit symbolic so far, is a testament to that internationally shared goal.

The ongoing conflicts in the region, as in Syria, Afghanistan, between Palestine and Israel, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, necessitate diplomatic exchange between Russia and Iran, and in some cases – as in the Syrian conflict – military coordination. Since Russia has outcompeted in terms the scope of international sanctions imposed on its economy, Moscow has become interested in taking joint effective measures to develop under sanctions pressure. Previously, Iran’s experience under sanctions was not of interest to major Russian companies and the public; however, after February 2022 it became a widely discussed issue. Dozens, if not hundreds of business missions have taken place since then, with this newly developed interest demonstrating the impact of the international environment on the Russia-Iran relationship.

However, the same dependence of the bilateral ties on the third parties’ influence can play a negative role as well. Russia has to take into account the concerns of other regional players such as the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Türkiye or even Israel – despite the recent decline of Russia-Israeli relationship – in part because Moscow values its multi-vector policy in the region, in part because the role of these countries in the sustainable Russian trade has grown significantly since February 2022. Ankara serves as a hub for the export of technologies to Russia. Along with Türkiye, some Arab nations of the region have become home for the Russians who have left the country in recent years. And none of them imposed their own sanctions against Russia in the wake of the Ukrainian conflict. This could be a factor that contributes to a full-fledged cooperation between Moscow and Tehran.

Sources of (in)coherence

While some of the arguments will be briefly repeated, it is worth looking into how aligned or mutually exclusive the Russian and Iranian interests are.

CommonParallelParallelMutual exclusiveMutual exclisive
Russia and IranRussiaIranRussiaIran
Security1) Fight terrorism;
2) Prefer to avoid a direct military conflict involving Iran;
3) Formally agree Iran does not need nuclear weapons;
4) Object to NATO expansion to the East.
1) Is conducting what it officially calls a Special Military Operation;
2) Has no objections to Iran building an allied network unless it hurts other Russian interests (Israel, Syria). 
1) Officially opposes wars and is going through internal debates about the Ukrainian conflict but demonstrates empathy towards Russia and seeks side benefits;
2) Builds an allied network called the Axis of Resistance.
1) Empowers state institutions in Syria.1) Empowers Shia militia in Syria.
Policy1) Pursue a new world order without the central role of the West in global governance;
2) Seek to preserve the statehood in Syria and the power in the hands of Bashar al-Assad.
Issues not mentioned in the common or mutually exclusive columns can potentially be listed here.Issues not mentioned in the common or mutually exclusive columns can potentially be listed here.1) Retains relationship with Israel;
2) Coordinates its efforts to resolve the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan with Türkiye;
3) Issued joint statements with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries in support of a peaceful settlement of the Iran-United Arab Emirates dispute over three islands in the Persian Gulf;
4) Signed and ratified the 2018 Caspian Convention. 
1) Does not recognize Israel;
2) Is wary of the growing influence of Türkiye in the region;
3) Does not recognize Crimea and four newly integrated regions as part of Russia, neither does it recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states;
4) Signed but never ratified the Caspian Convention in pursuit of control over a larger share in the sea.
Economy1) Are enjoying greater freedom to develop bilateral cooperation under sanctions;
2) Need to find ways of earning profits from economic cooperation within Eurasian Economic Union;
3) Are investing in the full launch of the North-South Corridor;
4) Are exploring technological capabilities for exchange under sanctions;
5) Prefer to de-dollarize bilateral and international trade but lack equally effective alternatives;
6) Are interested in stabilizing oil prices (OPEC+) and exchanging technology under sanctions. 
1) Has a niche in international markets and economy structure similar to the Iranian one, but that creates neither fierce competition nor much of a mutual interest.1) Has a niche in international markets and economy structure similar to the Russian one, but that creates neither fierce competition nor much of a mutual interest.1) Is overtaking Iran’s share in Chinese oil purchases.1) Has to reduce price in order to save its share in Chinese oil purchases.
Matrix of the Russian and Iranian National Interests.
Compiled by the author based on open sources
International North-South Transport Corridor.
Source: Valdai Discussion Club
( )


There are compelling reasons for Russia and Iran to cooperate in the security domain. Both countries have faced threats from jihadist groups, and this common challenge has increased the degree of cooperation, for instance over Syria. Russia’s involvement in Syria was in part justified by the need to fight Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)[12] and other terrorist groups, which could pose a threat to Russian security, particularly through the foreign fighters returning home. Iran had encountered domestic acts of terrorism but had limited capacity to face up to this threat alone in Syria. While Russia is going through a direct military conflict, both Moscow and Tehran prefer to avoid a direct military conflict involving Iran. Such a scenario would destabilize the situation in Iran and pose a threat to the security of the neighboring states in South Caucasus and Central Asia, as well as reduce the ability of Moscow and Tehran to focus on the economic development.

The fact that Iran and Russia agree that Tehran does not need nuclear weapons, at least at the official level, helps Russia maintain close cooperation with Tehran. Otherwise, as a Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) depositary state and a champion of the nuclear nonproliferation regime, Moscow would face internal disagreements over what it has to put the premium on: international nuclear nonproliferation obligations or friendly relationship with its neighbor.

Both Russia and Iran object to NATO’s expansion to the East. The Iranian leadership demonstrated empathy towards official Russian position on the Ukrainian conflict and saw the roots of the conflict in NATO’s advancement towards the Russian borders and its military build-up threatening Russian security. With this issue being the only overwhelming priority for Russia, Moscow couldn’t but embark on the alignment with Iran. However, it requires a thorough investigation. Iran officially opposes wars as the means of conflict resolution, which is why the Iranian elite conducts an internal debate about the degree of support Iran should provide to Russia in this situation. But the mainstream decision-makers seek side benefits from cooperation with Russia, in part because after the US withdrawal from the JCPOA Iran is left with no options for alternative gains. On its side, Russia raises no objections to Iran building an allied network called the Axis of Resistance unless it hurts other Russian interests: its residual relations with Israel and the goals it pursues in Syria where Moscow empowers state institutions while Iran – Shia militia.


From a political standpoint, Russia’s, and Iran’s joint pursuit of a new world order without the central role of the West has already been mentioned above. Despite the previously stated differences over Syria, Russia, and Iran both seek to preserve the statehood in this country and keep the power in the hands of Bashar al-Assad as there appears to be no other candidate who could secure both Russian and the Iranian interests at the current level.

Iran’s and Russia’s parallel political interests are not worth exploring because they create neither a ground for cooperation nor an obstacle to it. However, there are at least four areas where the two countries disagree.

First, Russia maintains diplomatic relations and solid business and societal ties with Israel. The latter is the chief adversary of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Before 2022, when Russia and Israel had relatively good relationship, it was especially hard for Moscow to find a delicate balance between the demands and the concerns of the two countries and accommodate them in its regional policy.

Another disagreement between Moscow and Tehran concerns the role of Türkiye in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and beyond. Russia coordinated its conflict resolution efforts more with Türkiye than with Iran. With the latter being increasingly wary of the growing influence of Türkiye in the region, Iranian experts voiced their dissatisfaction with the lack of cooperative efforts between Moscow and Tehran on this conflict. A particular question they frequently asked was why Russia did not object to the so called Zangezur corridor between Azerbaijan and its exclave, an endeavor that the Iranians called a NATO Turani corridor[13].

Russia and Iran view in several aspects differently the world political map. Iran does not recognize Crimea and four newly integrated regions as part of Russia, neither does it recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. Russia has never argued that Greater and Lesser Tunbs as well as Abu Musa do not belong to Iran, but it issued two joint statements with GCC countries in July[14] and December 2023[15]  in support of a peaceful settlement of the Iran-UAE dispute over the three islands in the Persian Gulf. These statements like the one signed by China a year earlier ignited criticism and reminded of some bitter episodes in the history of Iran.

A lesser disagreement is related to the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea. Signed by five Caspian littoral states in 2018, it has never been ratified by the only country – Iran. One of the primary issues for Iran is the method of dividing the seabed and the subsequent rights to the Caspian Sea’s vast hydrocarbon resources. The convention introduces a formula for dividing the sea based on the coastline length which leaves Iran with a smaller share than the equal 20 percent division it has been seeking since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Ratifying the Convention may be domestically viewed as a concession on its historic claim for a larger share of the Caspian Sea.


In terms of economic development, Iran and Russia are enjoying greater freedom to develop bilateral cooperation under sanctions because otherwise their priorities would make them fall apart again. To sustain that new attitude to one another, they need to find ways to benefit from the economic cooperation. Tariffs abolishment under the agreement between Iran and the EAEU is a major practical step towards this goal. Another one is the decision to connect the railway systems of the two states through Azerbaijan. Russia is investing 1.3 billion euros in order to complete the construction of the 162 km-long Rasht-Astara railway before 2028[16].

The increasing sanctions pressure motivated Russia to explore the capabilities for technological exchange with Iran. For instance, there are first reports on joint projects aimed at producing medical equipment[17]. But it is hard to expect fast progress in this direction as it requires greater knowledge of Iranian and Russian entrepreneurs about one another.

Ideally, Russia and Iran would prefer to de-dollarize bilateral and international trade. Despite the fact that 60 percent of their bilateral trade is done in national currencies[18], it cannot be viewed as a promising tool because of the three-to-one trade imbalance – Iran will have to purchase rubles for foreign currency, euros for example. With the absence of equally effective alternatives to the US dollar as a reserve currency, it is hard for a small group of states to resolve this issue on a bilateral basis.

Finally, there has been a debate over the relationship between Russia and Iran in the oil market. Despite the fact that Russia had overtaken Iran’s share in Chinese oil purchases in the wake of another wave of Western sanctions after which Tehran had to offer a larger discount to Beijing, the two states can hardly be labeled as equal competitors. The production capacity of Russia are three times larger than that of Iran, so the latter cannot severely influence the market. More so, the two are interested in stabilizing oil prices though the OPEC+ format and exchanging relevant technologies. Between October 2021 and February 2023 Russia became one of the top international investors in Iran’s economy and invested 2.7 billion dollars in oil projects[19].

Overall, Russia and Iran have a similar niche in international markets and economy structure that create neither fierce competition nor much of a mutual interest. For the latter to emerge, more work has to be done both in terms of the logistical and financial infrastructure and raising awareness among business communities.

Case in point: nuclear cooperation

There is hardly any field that could capture the complexity and evolution of Russia-Iran cooperation over the past 30 years as comprehensively as nuclear energy cooperation. It is worth exploring why the two nations are cooperating, what results have been achieved, and what has hindered their cooperation.

The cooperation began in 1992 and has been driven thus far by a combination of geopolitical and economic factors, reflecting both nations’ desire to advance their respective interests despite strong external pressure. Following the Islamic Revolution (1979) and the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), Tehran’s key partners influenced by political and security concerns distanced themselves, leaving Iran with limited options to pursue its nuclear ambitions. The United States, France, and Germany were the first to stop their projects in Iran. By 1997, even China had been enticed by the incentive to receive the US nuclear technology in exchange for the Beijing’s refusal from nuclear cooperation with Tehran[20].

Growing isolation in the nuclear realm necessitated Iran’s search for new partners, leading to the burgeoning relationship with the Post-Soviet Russia. Grappling with economic challenges, the latter viewed cooperation with Iran as an opportunity to invigorate its nuclear industry. Being in a desperate need of cash influx and employment opportunities for its workforce  Russian nuclear sector found a willing partner in Iran. This cooperation was not just economically beneficial but also crucial for sustaining Russia’s scientific and technical expertise in nuclear technology. The Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) project helped Russia provide jobs for nearly 20.000 people, as well as it involved 130 enterprises into the project[21].

Iran and Russia have pursued both reputational and strategic interests in maintaining and advancing their nuclear cooperation. For Iran, this partnership has become a testament to its resilience against Western pressure and its capability to pursue nuclear technology. For Russia, it was an opportunity to assert its role as a key player in global nuclear politics, demonstrating its technological power and diplomatic prowess as an all-weather reliable partner. The cornerstone of Iran-Russia nuclear cooperation has proved to be the construction of the Bushehr NPP. The initial agreement for building the NPP was signed between the Iranian and Russian governments in August 1992, with the contracts to complete the first reactor unit based on the VVER-1000 reactor design concluded in January 1995​​. This project materialized in the wake of an earlier attempt by German contractor in 1975 to build two power reactors at the site, which was halted in 1979 due to above-mentioned reasons​. Zarubezhatomenergostroy JSC, the predecessor of Atomstroyexport JSC, agreed to pick up the half-built, half-destroyed unit and complete the construction by adapting the foreign design to the Russian technology.

Fuel supply turned out to be another controversial issue for Russia. In 1995, Moscow and Tehran concluded another agreement to supply fuel in the first 10 years of Bushehr’s operation; however, there was no decision regarding the spent nuclear fuel. Russian legislation prohibited imports of irradiated material, but due to the US concerns that Iran could divert its nuclear program to military purposes and use the irradiated fuel for that purpose, the newly elected President Vladimir Putin had to amend the legislation despite heavy criticism from the Russian parliament and the public[22]. This decision allowed Russia to negotiate another deal with Iran in 2005 – not without difficulty – under which the spent nuclear fuel from the Bushehr NPP would be shipped back to Russia. Moscow made the first deliveries of nuclear fuel to Bushehr in 2007, marking a significant step towards the completion of the project. In 2011, the power plant was finally connected to the national electricity grid.

The construction of the plant took place despite the deteriorating situation around the Iran nuclear dossier. Between 2002 and 2005, some undeclared nuclear facilities and activities were revealed that fueled international suspicion with respect to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The failure of France, Germany, and Great Britain to offer a balanced solution to the problem, as well as the rhetoric of defiance by the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013) led the negotiation to a deadlock. Even Russia and China had to support the transfer of Iran’s nuclear dossier from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the UN Security Council and subsequent sanctions on Iran for not adhering to the UN Security Council resolutions[23].

Moscow was rather dubious about the sanctions. On the one hand, as the NPT depositary state and permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia expected that Iran would comply with the UN SC resolutions and refrain from undermining the nonproliferation regime. On the other hand, Russia softened the sanctions in order not to antagonize Iran and save some space for diplomacy. Therefore, despite the diplomatic crisis over Crimea’s accession to Russia, Moscow did its best to broker the JCPOA talks between 2012 and 2015[24], as well as the efforts to restore the agreement in 2021-2022[25]. Russia provided technical expertise and advice regarding the nuclear aspects of the deal. Given Russia’s extensive experience in nuclear technology, its input was instrumental in formulating the technical details of the JCPOA, including limits on Iran’s uranium enrichment – 300 kg of the U235 enriched to 3.67 percent – and the reconfiguration of the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant to produce stable isotopes for medical purposes[26]. Both at the negotiation and implementation stages, Russia played a significant role, and its involvement was critical in striking a balance between Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the expectations of the other negotiators. Russian specialists facilitated speedy shipment of excess nuclear material from Iran, and the reconfiguration project continued until the introduction of nuclear material to the facility by the Iranians who felt compelled to respond to the US withdrawal from the JCPOA in 2018 and successive reimposition of sanctions.

Russia is still working on the second and third units of the Bushehr NPP. In Fall 2023, Alexander Blagov, the Deputy President of Russia’s Kurchatov Institute, announced a collaborative initiative between the institute and Iranian partners, the Atomic Energy Organization and the Nuclear Science and Technology Research Institute[27]. This partnership will encompass an extensive array of fields, including biology, genetics, nuclear medicine, materials science, and the creation of innovative research tools. Additionally, Iran has recently become a member of the International Center for Synchrotron, Neutron, and Laser Research that operates the PIK reactor at the Konstantinov Institute of Nuclear Physics in Saint Petersburg[28]. These projects showcase Russia’s technical expertise and its role in shaping Iran’s nuclear landscape.

This is not to forget about the challenges that the two sides have faced in sustaining this cooperation. For instance, the construction of the Bushehr NPP faced extensive delays due to a variety of factors, including technical challenges, capability limitations, funding issues, and geopolitical pressures. Apart from the technical difficulties mentioned above, the two sides initially set unrealistic deadlines and price caps, and, wary of harsh criticism from lawmakers, political opponents, and public, could not officially announce their extension. The lack of competent contractors on the Iranian side, poor logistical capabilities of some Russian contractors, irregular access to funding both on the Iranian and Russian sides with delays in payments, as well as heavy pressure exercised by the United States that initially sought to curtail Russia-Iran nuclear cooperation and by the mid-2000s had agreed on the Bushehr NPP project were among the numerous hurdles that Moscow and Tehran had to overcome in its implementation[29]. A challenge to the construction of the second and third units at Bushehr remains to be an outstanding Iranian debt to Rosatom State Corporation estimated at around 500 million euros[30]. Iran’s failure to settle its debts is largely caused by its limited revenues under sanctions but adds a hint of financial uncertainty to the partnership, especially when it comes to the deadlines for the current projects’ implementation.

Raising questions about the future

There are two sets of questions that may define the future of the Russia-Iran partnership: four relate to Iran’s domestic issues, and the other four – its foreign policy.

Domestic issuesForeign policy issues
1. Should new protests break out, will there be a split in action, not just opinion, among the elite? 1. Will a direct military conflict erupt between Iran and Israel?
2. Will the government fulfill its social obligations to the population?2. Will the original parties to the JCPOA announce an end to the efforts towards reviving the agreement? 
3. Will the political establishment and the population develop an updated social contract while maintaining the political system? 3. Will Iran’s Look to the East policy, with its orientation towards SCO and BRICS, remain its foreign policy priority?
4. Will there be a transition of power?4. Will Iran and Russia officially declare and document the strategic status of their partnership? 
What to expect from Iran in 2024.
Compiled by the author based on open sources

In fall 2022, Iran faced a wave of protests following the death of 22-year-old Iranian woman Mahsa Amini. While the Iranian population and public figures divided over it, the state apparatus acted unanimously and helped the government to keep control over the situation. Though the protests were triggered by an issue far from the economic situation in Iran, the risk of future protests hinges upon the ability of the government to fulfill its social obligations. Otherwise, it could be faced with new rounds of uprisals and violence between the security forces and the population. A more fundamental question is whether the current political regime in Iran will pursue reforms to accommodate the demands of the people in the streets. An updated social contract would ideally strengthen the political regime and provide the sense of hope that the political system can adapt to the needs of the population. However, pursued in times of domestic turmoil, such an attempt may have the reverse effect and cause a drastic change in Iran’s domestic political landscape. Given the parliamentary elections and elections to the Council of Experts, a clerical body that appoints the Supreme Leader, expected in 2024, Iran’s leadership will have to calculate the risks and opportunities before any serious action. It is unclear if a new Supreme Leader would be selected under the supervision of the current one or, as it was in 1989, after his departure.

Russia will find itself in a very complicated position if a direct military conflict erupts between Israel and Iran. There might be some expectations in Iran that Russia take Iran’s side and support it, but the confluence of multiple regional and global conflicts bears additional risks for a large and diverse country like Russia.

Another important issue is the fate of the JCPOA. Despite the fact that no country is practically abiding by the agreement, its existence keeps Iran’s nuclear dossier from being reopened at the UN Security Council and triggering a harsher Iranian response. Should Iran decide to leave the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, as some of its officials promise in case the UN sanctions are restored, how would Russia react to such scenario? Although Moscow hails the ever-improving relations with Tehran and agrees that the US is fully responsible for the destruction of the JCPOA, it will not support Iran’s hypothetical decision to quit the NPT. It would rather see even unilateral sanctions removed from Iran and find a way to protect bilateral economic ties in a new environment[31] instead of observing the nonproliferation regime unravelling[32]. Such a development would make the Middle East, an important venue of Russian foreign policy interests, less secure[33].

Although the upcoming elections to Iran’s parliament and the Council of Experts[34] do not promise major changes in Iran’s foreign policy, it is important for Russia to see Iran still looking to the East and determined to be an active member of the SCO and BRICS. Shaping a multipolar global order requires a critical mass, to which Iran adds its political weight as a regional power.

Finally, the two countries are working on an updated bilateral treaty to replace the one concluded in 2001. According to the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the treaty is ready by 85 percent[35]. Meanwhile, Russia Senator Anatoly Artamonov claimed that Russia expects Iran to ratify two previous agreements signed 2021 – on cultural centers and information security – before moving on to the strategic partnership treaty[36]. Both documents were approved by the Iranian Parliament in the context of President Raisi’s working visit to Moscow that took place on December 7, 2023: on cultural centers ahead of the visit[37], and on information security – right after[38]. However, ten days after Russia had signed – for the second time – the statement on the three disputed islands in the Persian Gulf, Iran’s Guardian Council vetoed the bill on cultural centers with the objection that it contradicts Sharia law[39]. Though these issues are usually far from public attention, the underlying question is whether Russia and Iran succeed in not only signing the new treaty but enacting it in a way that proves the strategic character of their relationship. And that remains to be seen.

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[3] Amirahmadian B. Russia-Iran Partnership: an Overview and Prospects for the Future: Report № 29, 2016 / [B. Amirahmadian, etc.] [I.S.Ivanov (Editor-in-Chief)]  // Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC). Moscow, NPMP 2016. 160 p. URL:

[4] Sanaei M., Karami J. Iran’s Eastern Policy: Potential and Challenges // Russia in Global Affairs, 2021. 19(3). Pp. 25-49. URL:

[5] Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s Statement and Answers to Questions at the Primakov Readings International Forum // Russia Foreign Ministry, June 11, 2019. URL:; West Can’t Be Trusted Proven in Mr. Rouhani’s Administration: Imam Khamenei //, July 28, 2021. URL:; Preventing Iran from Advancing, the Main Reason for the 20-Year-Long Nuclear Challenge //, June 11, 2023. URL:

[6] Tishehyar M. A New Order Outworn Too Soon: An Overview of Iran’s New Position in the Multipolar World Order // Valdai Discussion Club, June 17, 2022. URL:

[7] Hamyani M. Iran and SCO: Embracing a Eurasian Identity. Part 2 // Institute for Political and International Studies, January 25, 2022. URL:

[8] Kaleji V. Iran and Eurasian Economic Union Negotiations: Upgrading EAEU-Iran Preferential Trade Agreement into a Free Trade Agreement // Russian International Affairs Council, January 24, 2022.

[9] Declaration by the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Iran on the Ways and Means to Counter, Mitigate and Redress the Adverse Impacts of Unilateral Coercive Measures // Russian Foreign Ministry, December 5, 2023. URL:

[10] Russia, Iran Discuss Tehran’s Coming BRICS Membership // Russia Briefing, September 26, 2023.

[11] Посол России в Иране заявил о рекордном товарообороте между странами // РИА Новости,
 9 февраля 2023 г. URL:

[12] The organization is recognized as terrorist in the Russian Federation. – Editor’s Note.

[13] Conspiracy of Creating “NATO Turani Corridor” with Geopolitical Consequences against Iran, Russia and China // Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, September 11, 2022. URL:

[14] Joint Statement of the 6th Russia – GCC Joint Ministerial Meeting for Strategic Dialogue // Russian Foreign Ministry, July 12, 2023. URL:

[15] Joint Declaration of the Sixth Session of the Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum at the Ministerial Level, Marrakesh, Kingdom of Morocco // Russian Foreign Ministry, December 21, 2023. URL:

[16] Ravandi-Fadai L. What North-South International Transport Corridor Means for Iran // Russian International Affairs Council, August 3, 2023. URL:

[17] Тегеран и Москва произведут робот-ассистированную хирургическую систему // РИА Новости, 19 июня 2023 г. URL:

[18] Iran-Russia Boost Use of Nat’l Currencies in Trade by 60% // IRNA, June 2, 2023.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Smith Jeffrey. China’s Pledge to End Iran Nuclear Aid Yields US help // The Washington Post, October 30, 1997. URL:

[21] АЭС в Бушере. Досье // ТАСС, 12 марта 2014 г. URL: 

[22] Stulberg A.N. The Federal Politics of Importing Spent Nuclear Fuel: Inter-Branch Bargaining and Oversight in the New Russia // Europe-Asia Studies, 2004. Vol. 56. № 4. Рp. 491-520. URL:

[23] Pikayev A. Why Russia Supported Sanctions Against Iran // James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, June 23, 2010. URL:; Azizi H. Russia’s Role in Brokering a Comprehensive Agreement Between the United States and Iran // LSE, August 1, 2021. URL:

[24] Maloney S. Three Reasons Why Russia Won’t Wreck the Iran Nuclear Negotiations // Brookings, March 25, 2014. URL:

[25] Lynch C. The Iran Nuclear Talks’ Breakout Player // Foreign Policy, January 26, 2022. URL:

[26] Кучинов В.П. Выступление на Секционном заседании 3: «СВПД и развитие сотрудничества с Ираном в области мирного использования атомной энергии» Московской конференции по нераспространению // Центр энергетики и безопасности, 2017. URL:; Рябков С.А. Венские договоренности по иранской ядерной программе: роль России и перспективы реализации // Центр энергетики и безопасности, 14 августа 2015. URL:

[27] Russia, Iran to Develop Research Equipment Together — Kurchatov Institute // TASS, November 23, 2023. URL:

[28] Ibid.

[29] Khlopkov A., Lutkova A. The Bushehr NPP: Why Did it Take So Long? // CENESS, August 21, 2010.

[30] Iran Pays off Part of Debt to Russia for Bushehr NPP Construction, Says Deputy PM Novak // TASS,
May 26, 2022. URL:

[31] Hafezi, P. Pamuk H., Lewis S. Russia says it has written guarantees on Iran nuclear deal // Reuters, March 16, 2022. URL:

[32] Margoev A. A Russian perspective on Iran’s final offer for a nuclear deal // The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, August 18, 2022. URL:

[33] Batsanov S., Chernavskikh V., Khloplov A. Restoring the Effectiveness of the JCPOA: Principles and Approaches. A View from Russia // Russia in Global Affairs, December 7, 2020. URL:; Раванди-Фадаи Л.М., Маргоев А.Р. Запад и СВПД: есть ли шанс на восстановление иранской ядерной сделки в новых условиях? // Российский совет по международным делам, 9 февраля 2023 г. URL:

[34] A constitutional body that elects Iran’s Supreme Leader and has the legal power to end his rule in case they deem him no longer competent or capable for this role. Last time they elected Supreme Leader was in 1989 when Ayatollah Khomeini passed away. Members of the Council of Experts – 88 in the current term – all have a religious background and are elected in general elections every eight years, but the candidates are filtered by another body – Guardian Council. The latter consists of six theologians directly appointed by the Supreme Leader and six jurists whose candidacy is suggested by Head of the Judiciary and approved by the Parliament. The regular mandate of the Guardian Council is to ensure that the legislation of the Islamic Republic Iran is consistent with the Sharia law and Constitution.

[35] Лавров оценил готовность документа о стратегическом партнерстве РФ и Ирана примерно на 85% // ТАСС, 23 октября 2023 г. URL:

[36] Наращивание экономического сотрудничества с Ираном – безусловный приоритет для России, заявил Артамонов // ВМЕСТЕ-РФ, 3 октября 2023 г. URL:

[37] Marakezi baraye fa’aliyat-e farhangi beyn-e Iran o Rusie ta’asis mishavad [Centers Will be Established for Cultural Activities between Iran and Russia] // Islamic Republic News Agency, December 4, 2023. URL:

[38] Layehe-ye movafeghatname-ye hamkari-ye Iran o Rusie dar houze-ye amniyat-e etela’at tasvib shod [Bill on Information Security Cooperation between Iran and Russia Has Been Ratified] // Islamic Republic News Agency, December 10, 2023. URL:

[39] Nazar-e Shoura-ye Negahban dar bare-ye layehe-ye movafeghatname-ye ta’sis va charchub-e fa’aliyat-e marakez-e farhangi beyn-e Iran va Rusie [Attitude of the Guardian Council on the Bill Approving the Agreement on the Establishment and Framework of Activities of Cultural Centers between Iran and Russia] // Shoura-ye Negahban [Guardian Council], December 31, 2023. URL:

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