Russian President Putin arrives in Iran for talks
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Tehran on Tuesday ahead of talks with his Iranian and Turkish counterparts on key issues affecting the region.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will discuss the ongoing conflict in Syria as well as the UN-backed proposal to allow for grain to be exported from Ukrainian ports.
The three regional powers have a complex relationship of shared interests and conflicts. The talks mark Putin's second trip outside of Russia since the beginning of the war in Ukraine in February and the first face-to-face meeting with a NATO member leader.
The talks also come days after US President Joe Biden visited Washington's key allies in the region — Saudi Arabia and Israel, as well as the Palestinian Territories.
Turkey's role at the talks
Ahead of the trilateral talks, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned Erdogan against further aggression in Syria. Both Iran and Russia support President Bashar Assad's regime, while Turkey has thrown its weight behind certain anti-Assadist groups.
"Maintaining the territorial integrity of Syria is very important, and any military attack in northern Syria will definitely harm Turkey, Syria and the entire region, and benefit terrorists," Khamenei told Erdogan.
Turkey has threatened to launch a military operation into northern Syria, particularly regions controlled by Kurdish groups, to extend a so-called "safe zone."
Ankara has also found itself on the opposite side of Moscow in conflicts in Azerbaijan and Libya, and has even sold drones to Ukraine. But its role as a NATO member that has not imposed sanctions, makes Turkey a much-needed partner for Russia.
Erdogan has also proven to be a thorn in the side of NATO's plan to quickly accept Sweden and Finland into the alliance.
Iran and Russia's competition and cooperation
Iran and Russia now find themselves in the same boat in the face of severe economic sanctions that have already taken a large toll on Iran.
Yet the two are also economic competitors as key oil and gas exporters. This became even clearer after Russia pivoted its export focus to China following the western sanctions. China has been a key market for Iranian energy.
At the same time, Iran is also facing an increasingly united regional bloc consisting of the Sunni Arab Gulf states and Israel whose almost only shared interest is in countering Iran's influence and advancing nuclear program.
Iran is likely hoping to pressure the US into accepting concessions to revive the 2015 nuclear deal thanks to the rising price of energy that was made moot by Washington's unilateral withdrawal under the Trump regime in 2018. Subsequent sanctions have crippled Iran's economy.
However, on Tuesday, shortly ahead of Putin's arrival, the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) and Russian state-run gas giant Gazprom signed an agreement worth $40 billion (€39 billion) to seek out options for cooperation.