MOSCOW, RUSSIA – DECEMBER 7: (RUSSIA OUT) Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) greets Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (R) during their meeting at the Grand Kremlin Palace, on December 7, 2023 in Moscow, Russia. President of Iran Raisi is having a one-day visit to Russia. (Photo by Contributor/Getty Images)

BEIRUT — Russia and Iran are getting closer to signing a “comprehensive agreement” furthering military cooperation, which experts told Breaking Defense will “formalize” their defense collaboration against Western security interests.

In 2001, Tehran and Moscow signed a 20-year comprehensive agreement, and now both sides have agreed again to sign a new agreement.

While not much information has been revealed about what the agreement might encompass, and to what extent it will tie the two allied countries together, the agreement is expected to see sunlight in the “very near future” and will reflect the “unprecedented upswing” between the countries.

“A comprehensive agreement might formalize closer political ties, potentially strengthening their shared opposition to the West, particularly in light of the Ukraine conflict and sanctions. While not explicitly mentioned, the agreement could lead to further collaboration on military technology or intelligence sharing,” said Mohammed Soliman, director of Strategic Technologies and Cyber Security Program at the Middle East Institute.

Jonathan Lord, director of the Middle East security program at the Center for a New American Security, said that the agreement won’t break new ground, “but will showcase just how deep the cooperation has grown between these two revisionist powers.”

“Iran’s ties with Russia is a story of change over time. Currently, Tehran and Moscow are trying to move a transactional relationship into a potentially more transformational direction. To that end, it’s presently unclear what the first iteration of the 20 year deal yielded vs what it left on the table,” Behnam Ben Taleblu, senior fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Breaking Defense.

He added that ⁠while Iran and Russia have previously discussed formalizing their bilateral agreements on energy and economy, “there have been significant limits in the past to this goal. Rather, shared experiences and best practices about how to exploit shadow banking and illicit trade may be one area, as well as sanctions busting.”

Bilateral Defense trading

Iran has exported Shahed drones to Russia in support of the latter’s conflict with Ukraine, and experts told Breaking Defense that Tehran is eyeing Russian air defense systems to protect its airspace as conflicts in the Middle East are increasing in tempo and geographic expansion.

“They’re cooperating to develop and produce more lethal loitering munitions for Russia’s use in Ukraine and for Iran to proliferate to partners and proxies throughout the Middle East,” Lord told Breaking Defense.

He added that Russia is acquiring Iranian ballistic missiles, which serve as a “another tool for Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine and to hold Europe under threat. In exchange, Iran will likely seek Russia’s conventional military capabilities like S-400 air defense systems to bolster its own security against the United States and Israel.”

Ben Taleblu expects that beyond potential for deepening military and security ties are “what Russia and Iran may cooperate on in the nuclear and space domains, where Iran has great interest and Russia has great aptitude.”

All three experts Breaking Defense spoke to agreed that such an agreement is an attempt by both countries to bypass Western sanctions.

“Russia and Iran have worked together to make their economies more resilient to western sanctions, to export and sell gray-market oil, and to undermine the rules-based order,” Lord told Breaking Defense.

This isn’t the first time increased ties between Iran and Russia have caused concern in the West. Breaking Defense reported in March that US generals raised alarm bells over Iran’s increased ties with Russia and China.

“Russo-Iranian relations have grown in the shadow of conflict against Western partners and against Western security interests. The ongoing wars in Europe and the Middle East therefore serve as fertile ground to deepen this cooperation,” Ben Taleblu said, though he doesn’t believe Russia will take part in Middle East conflicts in the meantime.

“So long as Russia remains involved in Ukraine there will likely be a cap to the degree it can engage in the Middle East or other conflict zones at once and to the same degree,” Ben Taleblu told Breaking Defense.

In his opinion, Soliman said that the new agreement could encompass cooperation in various areas, such as, “joint ventures in oil and gas production, refining, or infrastructure projects to bypass Western sanctions.” He further added that collaboration between the two countries may include “developing or acquiring advanced weaponry, joint military exercises, or intelligence sharing and sharing advancements in various fields to counter reliance on Western technology.”

He added that the agreement’s enforceability remains uncertain. “It could be more of a symbolic gesture than a legally binding framework.”

“The agreement could be interpreted as a signal of Russian support for Iran, particularly given the heightened tensions with Israel. Lebanon, a potential flashpoint, could become Israel’s next battleground” Soliman concluded.