March 12, 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the Agreement on the Foundations of Relations and Principles of Cooperation between the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The contract gets automatically prolonged once in five years and is likely to be extended again. However, the world is rapidly changing, providing new challenges to Russia and Iran, which prompts that Moscow and Tehran consider a new comprehensive document on strategic partnership to define mutual cooperation for the decades to come.
Back in July last year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the following during a press conference following his Moscow talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif: "... Today we have agreed that 20 years is a rather long period of time, especially the past 20 years, when serious and even fundamental changes took place on the international stage with regard to the economic and political aspects of the international order and the threats humankind is facing." Pointing to the two countries' shared outlook on many international issues, the Russian Foreign Minister said back then that it could be about "coordinating a new document, which will reflect the deep-going changes in the world and our common positions in these circumstances".
In February this year, spiritual leader of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sent a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin. It was brought to Moscow last week by Speaker of the Iranian Majlis Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf. He handed it over during talks with his Russian counterpart Vyacheslav Volodin. Although not advertised, its content is of vital importance, according to Ghalibaf himself. Speaking at a press conference following his meeting with Volodin in Moscow, Ghalibaf said that the Iranian leader's message to Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized the strength, strategic nature and continuity of Iranian-Russian relations. This important message concerns the region and the world powers, the Speaker of the Iranian parliament said at a meeting with Chairman of the Federation Council Valentina Matviyenko. "We have assumed that bilateral relations between Iran and Russia will be strategic, profound and strong for several decades, which implies that agreements and decisions between the two countries will be convention-based for 20 to 50 years."
"We should stand side by side and cooperate in all the areas starting with the environment, sociology, culture, relations between our peoples to politics, defense and security," Ghalibaf said, speaking later at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Ghalibaf's Moscow talks went far beyond inter-parliamentary contacts. He also met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev. This goes to prove that Moscow and Tehran have actively engaged in discussing a comprehensive bilateral document to reflect the nature and principles of mutual cooperation amid the aggravating regional and international security problems. In this context, Ghalibaf make a quite remarkable statement during his meeting with Volodin: "A powerful Russia is in the interests of Iran just like an independent Iran is in Russia's interests," the Mehr news agency quoted the Iranian Majlis Speaker as saying.
Moscow and Tehran have similar positions on international issues like security in the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea, while adamantly opposing military presence of non-riparian state there. The two countries already have invaluable experience in jointly combating terrorism in Syria and the Arab Republic's political accommodation under the Astana process. Russia seeks to preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian Nuclear Program, advocates a total abolition of anti-Iranian sanctions and believes that Iran does not violate the JCPOA but acts in line with it, being only forced to respond to the US withdrawal from the deal and to the failure of European countries to meet their obligations.
Russia and Iran, despite all the political order dissimilarities, incompatibility of territories, economic paradigms and defense capabilities, have found themselves in one and the same tiny group of states having their own independent, sovereign foreign and domestic policies, opposing the Western ideology of a unipolar world and therefore being particularly objectionable with the collective West. For this reason, Russia and Iran face similar threats. This cannot but bring the two countries closer together. Russia is aware of this, as Chairman of the State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin confirmed at the meeting: "Iran and Russia should keep strengthening their rapprochement to overcome regional and global challenges."
We are neighbors. This implies that we have not only common regional problems, but also shared and vast opportunities for cooperation in various fields, especially in economics and the transit of goods and services. The 2020 annual trade turnover of $2 billion is a nominal figure in view of the two states' foreign trade potential. This was also discussed during Ghalibaf's visit to Moscow. If both countries make good use of their opportunities, for instance, in the transport and logistics sector, the full-fledged North-to-South transit corridor may become a more beneficial alternative to other traditional global trade routes, as experts predict. And this, in turn, will significantly strengthen both countries' positions in Eurasia.
A new comprehensive Russian-Iranian treaty seems all the more likely as Tehran and Beijing are currently finalizing a similar 25-yeal-long agreement. In its foreign policy doctrine, Iran emphasizes its focus on cooperation with Russia and China, while not giving priority to relations with any of these great powers, keeping sort of a reasonable balance and demonstrating independence. Therefore, while striking a comprehensive deal with China, Iran deems it vital to have a similar document with Russia.
Significantly, this has been Ghalibaf's first foreign visit as Chairman of the Iranian Majlis. Before that, he visited the Russian capital as Tehran Mayor in November 2015. Ghalibaf is a political heavyweight. Apart from being chairman of the Parliament, he is also a member of Iranian spiritual leader's influential Expediency Discernment Council of the System. Ghalibaf belongs to the conservative establishment whose chances are high to bring their candidate to the presidential chair in the June 2021 elections. Thus, the recent visit also testifies to the conservative Iranian circles' pivot towards Russia and China for many years to come.