Iran: Did Raisi “achieve” anything in Russia?

The Iranian regime’s president, Ebrahim Raisi traveled to Russia on Wednesday amid the ongoing nuclear talks in Vienna between Tehran and world powers.

The trip to Russia stands in stark contrast to the regime’s so-called “neither the West nor the East,” slogan, engraved on the Foreign Ministry’s entrance. Raisi’s recent travel to Russia confirms the regime is scrapping the bottom of the barrel and tries to grasp anything to save itself from being overthrown.

Iran’s economy is in shambles due to the ruling theocracy’s mismanagement, corruption, ineptitude, sanctions, and the Covid-19 pandemic. The inflation rate hovers around 40 percent and Iran’s national currency has rapidly lost its value. Protests by Iranians from all walks of life span across the country, during which people target the entire regime in their chants. The future of nuclear talks in Vienna looks bleak due to the regime’s extortion and maximalist posture. In short, time is not Tehran’s ally.

Meanwhile, state-run media warn about another popular uprising. Mostaghel daily warned on January 19, that “The tsunami of social crises has caused a lot of dissatisfaction” and will result in “eruption of huge problems” which “can be very dangerous and lead to collapse.”

Many of the regime’s insiders mocked Raisi’s travel to Russia, and his Foreign Minister’s trip to China. They sarcastically asked about the “neither the West nor the East,” slogan. In response, the Supreme Leader’s mouthpiece Kayhan daily claimed on January 19: “In the ‘neither the West nor the East’ slogan, we are not speaking about geographical directions. This slogan was for the old days.”

In a nutshell, Raisi’s trip to Russia portrays the regime’s deadlock. But there are still several important speculations about the motive behind his visit.

First, Tehran desperately needs financial aid, and unlike the 2015 nuclear deal, Western governments are not ready to give another windfall of cash to the Ayatollahs. Besides, sanctions are not going to be lifted in a near future. To prevent its economic suffocation, therefore, the regime must turn to Russia to expand trade.

But Russia cannot offer a solution to the Iranian regime. First, Russia is under international sanctions and faces serious economic challenges of its own. So, it would not risk helping the regime and risk being slapped with more sanctions or pay the heavy price of violating the sanctions imposed on Tehran. On July 15, 2020, the state-run Shan website quoted Eshaq Jahangiri, the regime’s former Vice President, as acknowledging that Tehran did not “believe Russia and China would abide by sanctions.”

Second, perhaps Russia seeks to gain an economic and political advantage over Iran. There are some speculations that Kremlin wants to sell the Sukhoi fighter jets to the Iranian regime because Egypt and Algeria have canceled their contracts due to the US sanctions against Russia.

The regime has problems in dealing with Western countries in nuclear talks. Thus, perhaps Russian seeks to use its relations with Tehran as leverage in its crisis over Ukraine to gain concessions from Western powers.

It is safe to say that Tehran will be losing part. Because, as the state-run Etemad daily highlighted on January 19, “Russian only cares about its own interests and cannot be trusted.” The regime has the bitter experience of Russia condemning Tehran in the Security Council.

“We thought Russian would veto anti-Iran resolution at the Security Council. But it not only did not veto it, but it also voted against us. [Russia] even refused to at least leave the Council’s meeting or vote abstain,” said Nematollah Izadi, Iran’s last ambassador to the Soviet Union on January 19.

Third, the regime in Tehran is now maneuvering with its “look to the east” policy amid the nuclear negotiations, and pretending it intends to exploit the current problems between the Western powers and Russian and China and join the “Eastern bloc,” and fish in troubled waters.

This is unlikely since the regime desperately needs the U.S. sanctions to be lifted. The Iranian restive society with its daily protests sends this message to Iran’s fragile regime that it has no time for “trial and error,” as described by state-run media.

Besides, Tehran’s regional adversaries are increasing pressure on western governments to not succumb to the regime’s nuclear extortion.

Tehran’s idea that trade with Russian China can help 85 million people or at least help the regime to fund its illicit activities is equally flawed. Raisi’s foreign minister touts Iran-China’s 25-year deal, yet the promised investments have yet to materialize as Beijing has been hesitant to inject massive sums in a sanctioned country like Iran.

In other words, Raisi’s travel to Russia and the regime’s “look to the East” policy is like falling from the frying pan into the fire. This policy is not a breakthrough for the regime, it rather implies the mullahs’ desperation, clinging to anything at hand like a person drowning in the sea. The regime faces an explosive society at home and a population that wants regime change. This is a problem that neither Russia nor China could resolve.

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