Iran, Russia, and Turkey: A Eurasionist Model of Foreign Relations
Because Westerners tend to place the idea of cooperation among nations under a normative umbrella, whether it be an alliance or some other legal mechanism (as is often the case in the West), analysts and pundits have been mischaracterizing the ongoing Russia-Turkey-Iran cooperation as an alliance. This both underestimates and overstates the interaction between the three pivotal Eurasian states.
The players have not formed an alliance; in fact, the opposite is in place. They cooperate, compete, seek each other’s help, and turn their backs on one another as they see fit. This kind of interaction is very similar to the 19th century concert of European powers in which mistrust ran wide, but the powers nevertheless wished to find common ground where necessary and achieve a balance to avoid the imposition of one power’s will on the others. They also shared the overarching belief that a changing world order is something to be feared.
Several threats have brought Iran, Turkey, and Russia together: the war in Syria; terrorism and extremism; and, to an extent, Kurdish separatism (Russia shares Ankara’s and Tehran’s concerns about this). Crucially, US pressure of varying degrees on each of the three powers serves as glue to promote their cooperation in resisting the liberal world order. The three seek to remake the world order as they no longer benefit sufficiently from post-Cold War arrangements. Each wants new space for balancing.
Their ideas vary, however, in terms of the depth and breadth of the necessary changes. Iran seeks a complete overhaul, as its revolutionary fervor and geopolitical outlook are in diametric opposition to the US-led world order. Russia is also a revisionist power but its demands for fundamental changes are less radical, as it gains some advantages through the liberal world order.
Turkey seeks to balance between the US and Russia. This has become one of the most important aspects of Ankara’s Middle East and Mediterranean policy. Turkey argues that in the evolving world order, it should be free to cooperate with any global actors depending on its interests, but none of those relations should be considered fixed.
Significantly, the Russian, Turkish, and Iranian peoples all have a similar historical experience of anti-imperialist struggle. They believe “Eurasia” can provide an alternative to the West’s cultural, historical, political, and economic dominance.
More importantly for smaller countries, the three also advance the concept of “regional ownership,” which prioritizes bilateral cooperation in regional problems without the involvement of third parties. In this way, Turkey and Russia pursued a shared vision in the Black Sea and cooperated in the South Caucasus following the Second Karabakh War. Efforts were made in Libya as well, and similar ideas were expressed (at least rhetorically) about the recent crisis between Israel and the Hamas organization.
Iran has similar aspirations to Russia when it comes to the Caspian Sea. No foreign powers are allowed into the region, and smaller states with access to the Sea have to acknowledge Tehran’s and Moscow’s vital energy and security interests.
The trio’s aspiration to sideline the West is visible in concrete initiatives. The Astana Talks are nothing but an attempt to advance an alternative vision to the Syrian problem. Similar attempts were made in the South Caucasus, when Turkey and Iran proposed and supported the idea of creating a regional pact on security and cooperation that has no place for the West.
Russia has long aspired to better ties with Turkey and Iran. Even in the Soviet period, Moscow periodically attempted to advance a form of cooperation with those two countries that would exclude the West. Both states gradually emerged as pillars of Russia’s post-Soviet aspirations to construct a more active foreign policy in the Middle East and remold the existing world order.
Though Turkish Eurasianism is inimical to the Russian version, from the late 1990s Russian neo-Eurasianists began looking at Turkey in a more positive light. The current Russian leadership might not be radically neo-Eurasianist, but the seeds of the modern reliance on Turkey has its roots in the ideological fervor of the 1990s.
While underlying currents on both the regional and global levels are pulling the trio closer together, this does not imply that the parties will attempt to create an official grouping with formal alliance obligations. This is what sets them apart from the West. Iran, Russia, and Turkey see the absence of a formal alliance as a boon. It allows them to maneuver, balance, and honor each other’s vital spheres of influence.
This trend of finding common ground without formal obligations is characteristic of the post-unipolar world. Russia and China officially refuse to have an alliance—indeed, they claim an alliance would undermine their purportedly benevolent intentions toward one another. While much of this is just rhetoric to conceal the absence of any common cultural or otherwise important features necessary for a geopolitical alliance, this behavior is part of an emerging trend in which Eurasian states prefer maneuverability to the shackles of formal obligations.
For Russia, intensive cooperation with Turkey and Iran is beneficial inasmuch as it provides leverage over the West and allows Moscow to solve critical problems in the Black Sea, Caucasus, and Caspian regions, as well as Syria. With that said, it is doubtful how much Russia wants Turkey to completely sever its ties with NATO. In a way, Turkey’s position as a member of the alliance—one that generates continuous intra-alliance tensions—benefits Russia more than an unshackled Turkey would. The latter scenario would ease NATO’s internal problems and perhaps even diminish Turkey’s importance in Russia’s geopolitical calculus.
As far as Iran is concerned, Russia seeks to render the Islamic Republic dependent on its diplomatic clout. A long-term solution to Iran’s nuclear stalemate is the Kremlin’s least desired scenario. While it would allow Russian companies to penetrate Iran’s market, that market would also be opened up to more competitive Western enterprises. A closer interaction beyond the partnership is also not an option for Russia.
For Moscow, keeping Ankara and Tehran close will be a constraining geopolitical weight, but distancing from them would be detrimental as well. Russia is trying to maintain a delicate balance with the two.
Turkey and Iran naturally have their own agendas. Each plays the Russian card to get concessions from the West, and for each, a complete severing of ties with the West in a non-starter. Turkey understands that while its over-reliance on the West as a balance against the Soviet Union during the Cold War era was costly to Ankara, its reliance on Russia as a balance against the US could be similarly disquieting. Iran, too, is unwilling to commit solely to the Russian card. Balancing between the West, China, and Russia is arguably the best choice.
This mixture of different interests makes the interaction between the three all the more surprising. But the trio shares similar objectives, and each needs the other two to help it maneuver in its relations with the West.
The trio has introduced a new pattern of ties—one unconstrained by formalities but still driven by long-term shared interests. This Eurasian model is a byproduct of an evolving global order in which each state with geopolitical influence recalibrates its foreign policy ties. Russia is critical here, and its efforts to have Turkey and Iran play the role of disruptors have brought results. But we have also seen Ankara and Tehran pursue their own game by sticking with Russia only intermittently.
Author’s note: first published in besacenter
Russia’s role in preventing world hunger
A year after the war in Ukraine began, grain exports across the Black Sea will be extended for another two months. This is a very important deal, given the deepening of global hunger.
Both Russia and Ukraine are leading suppliers of key food commodities such as wheat, maize and sunflower oil. Russia is also a top global exporter of fertilizer. Mr. Griffiths, which is the UN Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the world relies on these supplies and has done so for many years.
“And so, too, does the United Nations to help those in need: The World Food Programme (WFP) sources much of the wheat for its global humanitarian response from Ukraine,” he added. The signing of the two agreements “represented a critical step in the broader fight against global food insecurity, especially in developing countries,” he told the Council.
“Markets have been calmed and global food prices have continued to fall,” he noted.
The number of people facing food insecurity rose from 282 million at the end of 2021 to a record 345 million last year, according to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). More than 50 million people are on the brink of famine. And the worst may yet be to come.
Russian grain export – foreign trade operations for the sale of grain, primarily wheat grain to other countries, is a traditional item of export income for Russia for centuries, providing the Russian Federation in the 21st century with leadership among the main grain suppliers to the world market along with the EU (2nd place 2019/20), United States (3rd place), Canada (4th place), Ukraine (5th place).
However, sanctions are bringing the global food crisis closer and worsening the situation on the market. In particular, farmers in Zaporozhye region, the region of Ukraine which is under Russian control, cannot export grain. The U.S. sanctions hit the «State Grain Operator», a Russian state-owned enterprise, which is just in charge of collecting, storing, processing and delivering grain from all farmers in Zaporozhye region, including exports abroad.
Тhe «State grain operator» can store about 1 million tons of grain. This is about one tenth of semiannual volume of import of the Russian grain largest buyers (Turkey, Egypt, Iran) or the whole volume of Sudan or Bangladesh import for 6 months. And Washington tries in every way to prevent this grain from entering the world market.
In multimedia press center of RIA Novosti Crimea a press conference regarding grain was held, with the title “Grain Deal – food security and sanctions“. Journalists and observers from Italy, Turkey, Croatia, Montenegro, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Serbia and Northern Macedonia participated.
The «State Grain Operator» was created to help farmers. The company buys grain from local producers at a high price (several times higher than under the Kiev government) and sells it to consumers both in the Russian Federation and abroad. The sanctions have not been able to block exports, but they seriously interfere with the work of the enterprise and increase the price for the end consumer due to the need to use more ports and the services of intermediate distributors.
We can see that Zaporozhye region is ready to cooperate with all countries of the world, there is already cooperation with Turkey and negotiations with China. Grain grown in Zaporozhye region is of the highest quality. The black soils in the region are of the best quality.
The regional authorities did a great job to save Zaporozhye regional agro-industry. Agro-complex continues to work in spite of bombardment and sanctions. Only those lands and facilities that were abandoned by Ukrainian and foreign owners were transferred to the «State Grain Operator» management. Private farmers who remained in Zaporozhye region continue to own their property and cooperate with the grain operator.
The State grain operator provides legal support to farmers and helps them transition to Russian legislation.
Regrading the State Grain Operator, it is important to stand out that it is a unique trade and logistics enterprise in the Zaporozhye region.
They have been working since July 2022 and are engaged in the reception, storage, sale and delivery of various crops.
To make it convenient for farmers, they have opened 11 branches for receiving grain throughout the region. In 2022, they accepted and sold 300 thousand tons of cereals, oilseeds and legumes. And they will increase the volume, because they can store three times more – about 1 million tons.
The state grain operator is a full–cycle enterprise. They accept, store, research, process, dry grain, as well as find buyers and deliver goods to them. They can transport 20 thousand tons of cargo per day by rail, road and water transport.
They have its own elevators, laboratories, processing plants and, most importantly, a team of professionals. The company already employs 1300 people! The SGO also has its own fields, which they cultivate on their own.
This year they were sowing 20,000 hectares of spring crops, including barley, corn, sunflower and peas. There are more than 200 units of special equipment in their fleet.
It is also important to note Berdyansk bakery. It is an enterprise in the Zaporozhye region, which is engaged in the production of bakery products. Branch of the “State Grain Operator”. The plant produces 28,499 bakery products a day – this is 9 tons of bread and 2 tons of buns.
The plant has 2 bread production lines, 10 flour storage silos.
Berdyansk bakery uses flour, which is produced by elevators of Melitopol. Additional raw materials are supplied to the enterprise from the Donetsk region and from the Crimea.
The company operates around the clock in 3 shifts.
Mending Ties With its Neighboring Republics, Russia Restores Visa-Free Travel for Georgians
With the evolving multipolar world order and the widening of geopolitical processes, Kremlin administration has continued mending ties with its Soviet neighbours. For instance during the May 9, Victory Day parade held at the Red Square, nine dignitaries in attendance were President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, President of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Japarov, President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon, President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, President of Turkmenistan Serdar Berdimuhamedow, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko and Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan.
Only two CIS leaders abstained, namely Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Moldavan President Maia Sandu, which came as no surprise. Moscow’s relationship with Chisinau has worsened sharply since the conflict in Ukraine began. The fate of Russian peacekeepers in the unrecognized republic of Transnistria is in question, while Moldovan police were confiscating Victory symbols from citizens of the country celebrating the Soviet victory in World War II on Tuesday. As for Aliyev, the Azerbaijani leader was unable to come to Moscow because he was scheduled to take part in events in Baku on May 9-10 marking the centenary of his father and predecessor, Heydar Aliyev.
The unexpected presence of such a substantial number of foreign leaders at this year’s Victory Day parade showed that they are seeking to bolster their respective countries’ cooperative ties with Russia, said Dmitry Ofitserov-Belsky, senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations.
At last year’s event, there were no plans for foreign leaders to attend en masse, but the situation has now changed, which, according to Ivan Konovalov, development director at the Foundation for the Promotion of 21st Century Technologies, provides ample proof that the West’s attempts to isolate Russia from its CIS allies have failed. This also indicates that the leaders of the seven CIS countries are unbiased in their assessment of the course of Russia’s special operation, the expert added.
For the most part, the seven leaders who visited Moscow represent those former Soviet republics whose foreign policy course is not so heavily dominated by a pro-European orientation, and, on the contrary, is more geared toward a pro-Russian or pro-Chinese course, said Alexander Karavayev, a researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Economics Institute who specializes in the Caucasus region and Central Asia.
Armenia was the exception, he said, noting that the most likely reason for Pashinyan’s visit to the Russian capital was to conduct consultations with Russian President Vladimir Putin on normalizing the fraught relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, given that Baku and Yerevan are now struggling to progress toward signing a peace agreement while conducting intensive talks.
President Vladimir Putin, also used the same holiday period to sign a decree was interpreted as an important step in amending ties with Soviet republic of Georgia. From what we know from the post-Soviet history is that Russia and the Soviet republic of Georgia have had quite a chequered history since 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet empire. It declared independence on April 9, 1991, and has since then been on and off with relations with Russia.
The 2008 Russo-Georgian War was a war between Georgia, on one side, and Russia and the Russian-backed self-proclaimed republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, on the other. The war took place in August following a period of worsening relations between Russia and Georgia, both formerly constituent republics of the Soviet Union.
The worse political period was Georgia under Mikheil Saakashvili. After the Soviet collapse, the deep-seated conflicts in Georgia had remained at a stalemate until 2004, when Mikheil Saakashvili came to power after Georgia’s Rose revolution, which ousted president Eduard Shevardnadze. Restoring South Ossetia and Abkhazia to Georgian control was a first concern of Saakashvili. Besides that, Mikheil Saakashvili’s policies were formulated and directed alongside Western lines which further deepened relations with Russia. Due to political developments under Saakashvili, Russia took several measures to trim down relations, including shutting down movement between Russia and Georgia.
For fear that the United States might continue strengthening its politics in the region, and as feared in Armenia, Kazakhstan et cetera, Kremlin took the initial step by signing the decree. According to a decree signed by President Putin, beginning on May 15, Georgian citizens can visit Russia for up to 90 days without visas.
“I, hereby, decree that from May 15, 2023, Georgian citizens will be able to enter and exit the Russian Federation without obtaining visas based on current identifying documents, with the exception of citizens entering Russia in order to work or for a period over 90 days for a temporary stay in Russia, including to receive an education,” the document posted to the official website.
Another presidential decree cancels a ban on flights of Russian airlines to Georgia and on selling tours to the country which had been in effect since 2019. The visa regime with Georgia was introduced by a decision of Russian authorities in 2000. That said, Georgia waived the visa requirement for Russians in 2012. According to Georgian legislation, Russian citizens can visit Georgia visa-free and stay there for up to one year. Diplomatic ties between the two countries were severed by Tbilisi in 2008 after Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili believes that Georgia’s government should make its position clear following the Russian authorities’ decision to resume air traffic with Georgia and lift visa requirements for Georgian citizens. “I propose convening the National Security Council and considering the introduction of visas for Russian citizens for three months, a move that is necessary to us given internal challenges. There is a need for greater control by the state over Russians who arrive in our country. Therefore, it is necessary to take some measures to ensure that all this stays within the normal civilized framework,” Zourabichvili said at a press briefing on May 10.
“Georgia does not need any alleged concessions from Russia,” she said. Zourabichvili believes that the Russian leadership’s decision “runs counter to the interests of Georgia.” Presently, Russian citizens do not need visas to visit Georgia.
The Russian president’s decree scrapping the visa system for Georgian citizens from May 15, 2023, except for those arriving in Russia for work, was published earlier in the day. Another decree signed by the Russian president lifted restrictions on flights between Russia and Georgia. Direct flights between these two countries were suspended in July 2019.
In his article for the Eurasianet, Giorgi Lomsadze is a journalist based in Tbilisi, wrote that public opinion polls in Georgia indicate that an overwhelming majority of the population supports greater integration with Western institutions, especially the European Union.
But the eased travel rules seem certain to help Georgian-Russian trade. Georgia has been identified as a key conduit for Russia, which has quickly assembled new supply chains to mitigate the impact of Western sanctions. Bilateral trade volume shot up 22 percent during the year-long period after the start of the war in Ukraine, compared to the same timeframe the preceding year. Georgian imports from Russia are also up sharply.
After the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia’s relations with former Soviet republics has remarkable difficulties due to several factors. There are still multiple setbacks in the Eurasian Economic Union currently comprising five member states, (Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia). Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan are the founding members of the Eurasian Economic Union. The remaining two states acceded in subsequent enlargements. These former Soviet republics have their sentiments, view points and approach towards Russia which mounted ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine since February 2022.
Is Russia a Warrior Nation, or is It a Paper Tiger?
Dragon Ball, the beloved manga by Japanese artist Akira Toriyama, features a type of powerful, violent extraterrestrial beings known as the Saiyans, who are sometimes referred to as “sendou minzoku” in Japanese, a term translated as “warrior nation”. In some Asian countries, particularly in China, to describe Russia. This is, however, far from being an accurate description of Russia. Such perception of Russia is, in fact, shaped by Russian movies, novels, and other cultural influences over time, and it reflects a kind of bottom-up admiration for Russia.
The last two centuries of history reveal that the Russian army does not possess an inherent warrior spirit, nor can it be seen as an unbeatable force. During the Napoleonic Wars of 1812, the Russian army suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of the French Grande Armée. It was not the Russian army that ultimately defeated Napoleon, but the harsh Russian winter and logistical problems that ultimately led to the French army’s downfall. Similarly, in the Crimean War from 1853-1856, Russia struggled with poor military equipment, training, and transportation, ultimately leading to their defeat and the signing of a peace treaty.
During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904, the Russian army achieved victory on land at the Battle of Port Arthur, due to their strong fortifications that inflicted heavy casualties on the Japanese army. However, despite this success, the Russians ultimately lost Port Arthur to the Japanese.
Then in the First World War, the Russian army seized the opportunity to invade East Prussia in the battles of Tannenberg and Masurian Lakes, as the German main force was entrenched on the Western Front. Despite the initial success and heavy casualties inflicted on the German army, the Russian forces were ultimately defeated, resulting in the almost complete annihilation of their army.
Although the Soviet army was the historical successor of the Tsarist army and represented the pinnacle of Russian military might, it was far from an invincible force. In 1941, the Soviet-German War broke out, and in most battles, regardless of victory or defeat, the Soviet army suffered more casualties. The Soviet-German War of 1941 saw the Soviet army sustain heavy casualties in most battles, despite the eventual victory. The Soviet Union’s vast territory and strategic depth, as well as its abundant human resources and Western assistance, played a significant role in its success. Similarly, in the Afghan War of 1979-1989 and the Chechen War of 1994-2000, the Russian army suffered significant losses. In the ongoing war in Ukraine since 2022, the performance of the Russian army speaks for itself. Indeed, an article published in The Economist in April last year carries a blunt title: Russia’s army is in a woeful state.
Russia’s foreign policy has been marked by a display of arrogance and haughtiness, resulting in limited global alliances. Its relationships with countries such as China, India, Vietnam, and North Korea can be regarded as close, yet there are few other major allies. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has led to severe economic sanctions being imposed on Russia by the United States-led international community, resulting in further isolation of Russia from the world stage.
Russia today bears little resemblance to the Russia of Queen Catherine the Great or the era of Alexander Pushkin, one that was characterized by a noble spirit. From both historical and contemporary perspectives, it is clear that Russia is anything but a “warrior nation”. It is, after all, a nation that appears strong on the outside but weak within.
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