by Gabriel Gavin
Wednesday, 20
July 2022
Analysis
10:00

Spurned by China, Putin turns to Iran

The Russian leader is searching for new allies on the world stage
by Gabriel Gavin
Ayatollah Putin. Credit: Getty

Just weeks after President Vladimir Putin ordered his tanks to roll into Ukraine, the world’s largest drone manufacturer announced it was pulling out of Russia, following allegations its technology was being used on the front lines. DJI’s decision to suspend all operations would be unremarkable, given the deluge of foreign firms making a hasty exit, were it not for one important detail — it’s a Chinese company with close links to Beijing.

Now, as the war drags into its fifth month, Putin is believed to be shopping around for weaponry to replenish his country’s dwindling arsenal. But unfortunately for the Russian President, he is finding fewer and fewer foreign leaders willing or able to do deals with him. That is one of the main reasons for his visit to Tehran this week.

According to American intelligence officials, Iran is putting the finishing touches on a deal that would see “hundreds” of military drones dispatched to Moscow. Satellite imagery released to the media supposedly shows a Russian delegation inspecting the missile-equipped Shahed-191 and Shahed-129 drones on two occasions last month. Putin’s forces have reportedly already started training to use the unmanned aerial vehicles.

For Moscow to maintain its momentum in the war, this is a vital move. Ukraine has wielded its Turkish-made Bayraktar drones with devastating effect, using them to take out vast columns of enemy armour. Russia, meanwhile, has no domestically produced attack drones on the battlefield, and the surveillance ones it does have depend on foreign components that are now embargoed.

Worse still for the Kremlin, its long-touted threats of giving up on the West and “pivoting to the East” appear to be coming to nothing. Despite warm words from both sides, China has refused to help Russia evade sanctions or supply it with armaments since the start of the war. Speculation that Beijing is distancing itself from Moscow has now hit fever pitch, with Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, being forced to deny claims that Chinese Premier Xi Jinping had rejected an invitation for a bilateral summit earlier this month.

Even the most sympathetic of Russia’s European partners are now looking increasingly antagonistic. Ahead of a meeting on the sidelines of the Tehran summit, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan left Putin waiting as journalists snapped shots of the Russian leader cutting a lonely figure. The fact that Ankara has been supplying Ukraine with the very drones that are now causing his headaches went unsaid. 

With Russia in such a precarious position, Iran has evidently spotted an opportunity. “We need a strong ally, and Moscow is a superpower,” Reuters reports a senior Tehran official saying in advance of this week’s talks. As a major weapons manufacturer and oil producer, the country’s biggest problem has been finding partners prepared to trade with it. Now, the world’s largest country has joined the same club.

It’s not just drones that could be on the table during these discussions. Russia has the most nuclear warheads in the world, and a colossal industry behind them that could help Tehran in its long-standing ambitions to develop atomic weapons. Likewise, Iranian weaponry could help prolong Putin’s war in Ukraine, costing more lives and more aid from the West.

The ragtag group of theocracies, Communist backwaters and tyrannical states may not look much like the new world order Putin had planned, but now it’s the only one he has left.

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Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
30 days ago

It’s far from certain China is distancing itself from Russia in truth or simply in public. What the CCP says it does and what it actually does are routinely unrelated. There could be many purposes for the withdrawal, beginning with the simple fact that it may have been a private company decision based on profits and Beijing was unwilling to exert their influence fully. Let’s remember that the Chinese are still supporting Russia’s economy by buying oil and other resources. They are, at best, playing both sides for individual gain, and at worst, signaling neutrality publicly while helping Russia covertly, not that they have to do much besides keep buying oil and such. Loss of drones is certainly of strategic significance, but I doubt it will be the difference between victory and defeat. Let’s remember that Iran has recently cozied up to China, but they have historically and recently often been at cross purposes with Russia. Getting their two most powerful and resourceful allies in closer cooperation benefits the CCP as well. China is positioning itself as the fulcrum of anti-US powers in preparation for what is headed towards a Cold War style struggle for hegemony or even WWIII, depending on how much both sides are willing to sacrifice when the CCP makes their inevitable move against Taiwan. The Chinese leaders are clearly not ready yet, so they are wisely hedging their bets. The result that benefits them most is a Russian victory, but only one in which they played no active visible role, and that is what I expect they are working toward. The CCP are frankly better than our own leaders at power games.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
30 days ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Hedging their bets? No active visible role?
Where were you when Xi Ping and Putin announced their alliance had ‘no limits’?

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
29 days ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Over the longer term, you’re probably right. Russia/China make natural allies with China’s manufacturing and advancing tech industry combined with Russia’s natural resources, food, and weapons. Given current geopolitical conditions it’s near certain that they will remain at least quasi-allied for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean they will always march in lock step. China has remained neutral on the issue of Ukraine, maintaining a commitment to territorial integrity while simultaneously accusing NATO of provoking the conflict, a very neutral approach. That is almost certainly something they’re doing because of short-term vs. long-term considerations. I think Xi knows long-term that there’s going to be a split between the US and China, but industry shifts take time so China is going to milk the cash cow as long as possible by pretending to respect international order and avoiding being sanctioned themselves.

Peter B
Peter B
29 days ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

China and Russia are historical and natural enemies. Even to the point of border hostilities after WWII. Suggest you do more research.
Any alliance is one of short term convenience.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
28 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

I was speaking in strategic and future oriented terms rather than historical ones. You’re correct that there have been several conflicts between the two since 1800. It could be argued that, after Britain and Japan, Russia was the third biggest offender in China’s ‘century of humiliations’. Nevertheless, alliances do change and sometimes history goes in odd directions. The US/China rivalry is likely to be the defining geopolitical conflict of this century, and it isn’t going away anytime soon. Within that paradigm, for as long as it persists, Russia becomes a natural ally to China by virtue of the resources it can feed to China’s manufacturing machine and because of their mutual dislike for America and push to gain influence over the greater international order.

martin logan
martin logan
30 days ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Since their GDP is now at 4%–the worst it’s been in 30 years, I suspect just now China doesn’t want to take on loser nations like Russia.

Peter B
Peter B
29 days ago
Reply to  martin logan

We shall soon found out more about the house of cards that is the Chinese property bubble and how much of Chinese growth was fake. Chinese demographics are awful – as are Russians. The US is in much stronger shape here.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
28 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

There is merit in your position. I can only say I hope that economic failure doesn’t lead them both blaming America and the West and pushing them both farther down the path of militarist nationalism as economic hardship once did Germany. You seem more optimistic than I am, so I will say I hope you’re right and I’m wrong.

Peter Buchan
Peter Buchan
30 days ago

The shallowness and one-dimensionality of some of what passes as “analysis” on UnHerd never ceases to surprise. Fact: Russia is not “isolated” – more than 80% of the word’s countries have remained either neutral or support the push-back against NATO in some form or another. Fact: whatever anyone may think of Russia’s “SMO” the reality is that the country cannot – ever – be “isolated” due to its strategic positions (plural); geographic; diplomatic; resources; alliances.
These are simple, provable facts. Whatever her other shortcomings, an Ayn Rand quote springs to mind: “You can ignore reality, but you cannot ignore the consequences of having ignored reality.”
The idea that Russia’s “pivot East is coming to nothing” is also as naive as it is wishful. Not to mention grossly premature in view of the complexities involved. Fact: Russia is not “pivoting East” unilaterally, it is merely accelerating its long-stated strategic intention to balance its risks by joining “Global South” in resisting Western USD-driven hegemony. That this “pivot” should never have been allowed to happen has been commented on by some of the most august and trusted names in geo-strategic circles. And they will be proven right – ultimately at the cost of the West.
So drop your bias, stick around and learn.

Last edited 30 days ago by Peter Buchan
martin logan
martin logan
30 days ago
Reply to  Peter Buchan

The real problem, as Putin’s desperate quest for weapons shows, is that his “brilliant” invasion has pretty much wrecked the Russian military.
Most of the units in the initial invasion force no longer exist, having suffered 10s of thousands of casualties–with still no full mobilization. His one “ace,” artillery, is now being progressively destroyed by HIMARs. The Russian air force dare not even loiter over Ukraine any more.
The seizure of the last 5% of Luhansk appears to have been the “Battle of the Bulge” moment: Putin’s last throw of the dice.
Ingenious partnerships by either side will not be decisive in this war. Like all wars, it will be decided on the battlefield. And with the Antonovsky bridge to Kherson too damaged for heavy traffic, it appears Ukraine is winning in that dept.

Last edited 30 days ago by Martin Logan
Jeff Andrews
Jeff Andrews
30 days ago
Reply to  martin logan

There’s one little hole in the footpath of the bridge, the charge went off underneath in the soil.
I’m surprised nobody mentions the huge impact American help is with AWACs and satellite recon preventing Russia from full air superiority too far west. They only really ramped this up in April.

D Walsh
D Walsh
30 days ago
Reply to  martin logan

Martin, I think you’re delusional, if the Russians are losing, why is Putin acting so calm ?

The Russian Air Force is still hitting targets every day

AS for this article, I think the Russians are doing deals with Iran now, because in the past they were worried about sections from the US/Europe, well they no longer care about that. the West has no more leverage to use against Russia

martin logan
martin logan
30 days ago
Reply to  D Walsh

The Russian air force dare not even fly over Ukrainian territory any more.
The strikes are actually from sub-launched missiles (Kalibrs, etc). Since they are quite expensive and designed to sink aircraft carriers, using them to attack shopping malls is the equivalent of Hitler’s delusional V-2 campaign.
And the bridge has been hit again. It will go eventually. The Ukrainians are getting more HIMARs.

Last edited 30 days ago by Martin Logan
Peter Buchan
Peter Buchan
29 days ago
Reply to  martin logan

Sorry, you are incorrect. Russian aircraft are flying over Ukraine – just not Western Ukraine. Why? Because they a) don’t have to in order for Russia to achieve its military goals (which it undoubtedly will, though this separate to ultimate political goals which are a separate matter entirely) and b) aircraft and aircraft operators are too high value to needlessly risk. In addition, the stated and now provable Russian strategy has been, from Day 1, to “demilitarize” Ukraine – which means inflicting maximum losses on the Ukrainian MILITARY while minimizing – as best they can – both civilian and Russian military losses. The asymmetry in losses are easy to find …for anyone with a mouse and 15mins of well-spent search time. Go on, try it. You might also reflect on the doctrine being implemented: it is based on a Clausewitz-principle holding that the objective is to degrade your enemy’s fighting force to a point where conflict is no longer an option, then sue for peace. The problem, with respect, is that too many intellectually lazy “armchair specialists” in the West have been trained to think that “war” = NATO regime change operations where they bomb people who don’t/can’t fight back. Behold the NATO playbook: 1) “shock and awe” 2) regime change by “cutting the head off the snake” (blah blah) 3) occupation / proconsul-operations alongside full societal collapse 4) insurgency (because warfighting capability WASN’T fully degraded) 5) declare victory …then leave the ruins behind. With respect, grow up and read/observe more.

Last edited 29 days ago by Peter Buchan
Tim Lever
Tim Lever
30 days ago
Reply to  Peter Buchan

Totally agree, many UnHerd contributors are blindly Russophobic and are unable to provide any insight beyond assuming that the West is, inevitably, going to triumph again and her enemies are bumbling idiots.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
30 days ago
Reply to  Tim Lever

People hated Hitler too! I’ve no idea why?

Peter Buchan
Peter Buchan
29 days ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

What is it with everyone being called “Hitler”? Incessantly and everywhere. Is that the level of rational discourse now? Let me (try) help you: 1) refresh your memory about the drivers behind WW2 and Germany’s ultimate goals then 2) if you’re not yet familiar with it, check out the 2 well known, oft-cited and interlinked strategic playbooks underpinning US/NATO foreign policy in Europe, namely Zbigniew Brzezinski’s magnum opus named “The Grand Chessboard” (aka Eurasia, here: The Grand Chessboard – Wikipedia) and its subsequent offshoot known as the “Wolfowitz Doctrine” (here: Wolfowitz Doctrine – Wikipedia). Oh, and while you’re at it, look up the strategic objectives set out in the policy framework known as the “Project for the New American Century” co-written by one Robert Kagan – a.k.a. the husband of one Vicky “F*** the EU” Nuland – she who admitted spending USD$5 billion on “regime change” ops in,,,,Ukraine! …handed out biscuits on Maidan square, and now heads US operations in the region (again). Come on man; educate yourself. There simply ARE 2 sides to this nasty and avoidable state of affairs and to pretend that is not so is to be part of the tragedy playing out.

Last edited 29 days ago by Peter Buchan
Tim Lever
Tim Lever
17 days ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Well the Russians hated him for invading and killing around 25 million people.

martin logan
martin logan
30 days ago
Reply to  Tim Lever

Now why would the Russian debacle just outside of Kyiv make anyone think that?

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
30 days ago
Reply to  Peter Buchan

I believe you make some really good points here: surprising you’ve had so many ‘dislikes’. Odd..

Peter B
Peter B
29 days ago
Reply to  Peter Buchan

Must be nice over there in Dunning-Krugerland.
The West will adapt and survive. Putin’s flushing Russia down the toilet. I almost feel sorry for the Russians. But they keep choosing bad leaders, so it’s all on them.

Stuart Sutherland
Stuart Sutherland
30 days ago

Interesting times!

Warren T
Warren T
30 days ago

Wait…! I thought Iran’s nuclear ambitions were merely peaceful, for the production of electricity for it’s people???

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
30 days ago
Reply to  Warren T

..and also to assist in pig flight I’ll warrant!

Peter Buchan
Peter Buchan
29 days ago
Reply to  Warren T

No, sorry, you have it backwards: it is the West and its “values” who taught what you people know as “Global South” that only those countries that possess real armies and/or nukes (or both) have a hope in hell of resisting plunder and/or regime change the moment they don’t toe the line. Also known colloquially as the “rules-based order”. Whether Iran was or was not planning to build nukes will never be known given that the US unilaterally tossed the JPCOA in the bin. And you know what? None of you de facto US vassals either stopped them, or changed their minds. If they do pursue nukes now, who can blame them? And a PS.: I recall several years ago when a participant in a TV debate on Iranian uranium enrichment called their theocracy a “death cult”. His opponent calmly remarked that it was a strange death cult indeed whose leadership sends their children to elite universities in the US and UK.

Last edited 29 days ago by Peter Buchan
Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
30 days ago

On this site recently there was a picture of Putin with the leaders of the other BRIC countries plus South Africa. They were planning a new reserve currency to compete with the dollar. That doesn’t seem too isolated to me.

Peter B
Peter B
29 days ago
Reply to  Steve Elliott

Wake me up when it happens. And if it makes any difference.

Jeff Andrews
Jeff Andrews
30 days ago

I’ll tell you why China or Russia isn’t keen on using there own drones over Ukraine, in case they end up in American hands. Which they inevitably will.
The Iranians won’t care, in fact they’ll think it’s funny, since they’re just copies of American ones they’ve hijacked themselves. Iran, China and Russia have all done there add ones but they can use the standard copies of US ones which are all that’s needed.just like they’ll be using copies of HIMAR missiles to land specifically on NATO head sheds in Ukraine to make another point. Or use Caesar howitzers further west.

martin logan
martin logan
30 days ago
Reply to  Jeff Andrews

The problem is: any such “copies” are years away from deployment.
Russia has already lost this war.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
30 days ago

Ooh Iran getting nuclear weapons technology courtesy of Russia? Well done Israel for backing the Russians over Ukraine – it’s gonna come back and bite you on the posterior big time.
Maybe next time, if you get through this after a nuclear war with Iran, you’ll stay onside with the U.K. and the USA.

Last edited 30 days ago by Ian Stewart
D Walsh
D Walsh
30 days ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Iran doesn’t need Russia’s help to build nuclear weapons, its not hard to build the bomb, getting the parts together is the hard part

The Neocons seem hell bent on war with Iran, they have learned nothing

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
30 days ago

Were it not for the fact that it is the West (US mainly) that has actually used nuclear weapons, invaded many sovereign nations, savagely killed millions (yes millions) in its aggressive, imperial strategies… we could all be very nervious of an Iran Russian alliance. However, hard indisputatable facts make it no more scary. I’m just glad I live in a white-skinned, Christian country with zero oil: otherwise no doubt I’d have US troops murdering and torturing my fellow citizens with impunity!

Last edited 30 days ago by Liam O'Mahony
martin logan
martin logan
30 days ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

It certainly isn’t “scary.”
Just desperate–and far too late.

Warren T
Warren T
30 days ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Yes! It would have been wonderful to have the U.S. stay out of international affairs, especially Europe’s, over the last century. But you would be speaking German today and unable to post a comment like that. Or, you wouldn’t have time to post anything whilst breaking up rocks at a Gulag somewhere in Siberia.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
30 days ago
Reply to  Warren T

You’ve milked that one to death: it’s time to recognise that one good intervention doesn’t negate a dozen wicked ones! The US involvement in WW2 was minor compared to the others: tens of millions fought and died long before you guys turned up. Sure, your involvement was decisive just as any bystander can knock out a powerful aggressor AFTER the fight has been going on weakening both sides to a point where they are exhausted. How many US troops fought in WW2? How many Russians? British? French?

Last edited 30 days ago by Liam O'Mahony
A. M.
A. M.
30 days ago
Reply to  Warren T

And if not for US disastrous intervention in the WWI, there would likely not be WWII. I think they cancel each other out.

Peter Buchan
Peter Buchan
29 days ago
Reply to  A. M.

Excellent point. What (almost) everyone forgets – or, perhaps, refuse to recognize for nefarious reasons of their own – is that the only reason D-Day and western front deaths were so low was because most of Hitler’s elite army lay dead in Russia…along with 20-24 million dead Russians. Unlike the intellectual and culturally rootless masses in the “Moral West”, they will never forget.

Peter B
Peter B
29 days ago
Reply to  Peter Buchan

Remind me – who invaded Poland alongside German in 1939 and enabled all the killing ? Who supplied the Wehrmacht with fuel and raw materials to support the Nazi war machine up to June 1941 ?

Peter B
Peter B
29 days ago
Reply to  A. M.

Utterly moronic.