Putin Building Anti-West Global Alliance as He Tries to Reshape World Order

Russian President Vladimir Putin pushed for a new kind of alliance that can face off against the West during his trip to Tehran this week, the first time Putin has traveled outside the borders of the former Soviet Union since he ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Putin's visit to Iran on Tuesday comes days after U.S. President Joe Biden visited Israel and Saudi Arabia and pledged that Washington would try to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Andrey Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council, said the meetings with Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan were important for Putin "personally" because the Kremlin "doesn't want to allow itself to be isolated internationally" as Russia reels from international sanctions.

The talks followed concerns expressed by U.S. officials that Iran will supply Russia with hundreds of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, although the Kremlin denied that Putin had discussed this with Iran's leadership, according to reports.

Vladimir Putin and Iranian and Turkish leaders
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pose for a photo before a trilateral meeting on Syria in Tehran on July 19, 2022. Sergei Savostyanov/Getty Images

Although the future of Syria was on the agenda of Tuesday's talks, as was a U.N.-backed proposal to resume exports of Ukrainian grain to ease the global food crisis, the summit could also be seen as a push for an emerging anti-Western bloc.

"Putin's visit to Iran cements the new alliance: Russia-Iran-Syria-China-North Korea. Not a terribly salubrious group," tweeted BBC broadcaster John Simpson.

Shahjn Gobadi, a member of the Paris-based opposition group National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) saw the meeting as one that was in Tehran's interests as it faced growing protests within the country.

"The Iranian regime, facing an exacerbating crisis and ongoing protests and strikes at home, is in a desperate situation," he told Newsweek.

"The crisis is so acute that cozying up with Russia or reaching a nuclear agreement such as the JCPOA will not provide a remedy and prevent its downfall," he said.

This referred to the talks on restoring the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which Russia threw into disarray when it demanded U.S. guarantees that sanctions on Moscow would not affect its trade with Iran.

"As far as Ukraine is concerned, the Iranian people and their just resistance have been on the side of the Ukrainian people and their resistance from the outbreak of the occupation," Gobadi added.

There is much common ground between Putin and Raisi. Both rule with an iron fist, preside over countries facing tough international sanctions and rail at the west as a corrupting force.

Also, the punishment that Iran has been facing because of its nuclear program could offer Moscow "some lessons" according to Janis Kluge of the SWP think-tank in Berlin. "In exchange, Russia could offer military goods and possibly raw materials or grain," he told Reuters.

However, the competing interests among Russia, Iran and Turkey, might put a limit on any cooperation. Turkey, a NATO member, has not imposed sanctions on Russia but it has sold lethal Bayraktar drones that Ukrainian forces have used to attack Russian troops in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Russia and Iran are oil and gas producers, and competition between them has stepped up since the start of the Ukraine war as sanctions on Russia energy forced Moscow to export cut-price oil to China and India.

"Moscow is eating Tehran's lunch in commodity markets and has even fewer resources to throw at projects in Iran," Henry Rome, of the Eurasia Group think tank, told Reuters.

Nick Kitchen, director of the Centre for the Study of Global Power Competition (CGPC) at England's University of Surrey told Newsweek: "this is not about an anti-Western alliance per se, most obviously, Turkey is a NATO member, but a function of intensifying competition between states."

Iran is part of a wider group of countries which consists of China, India, Latin America and Arab and African nations that Russia wants to build closer ties with to show it can thrive under sanctions.

"Russia's enormous strategic error in Ukraine has left it in need of new partnerships," Kitchen said, "and states who aren't fully signed up to the Western position of isolating may be able to take advantage of that to drive good bargains in certain areas."

"The challenge for Turkey, and also Iran, which has its own negotiations with Western states to consider, is how far they can push partnering with Putin before there are consequences for the relationships with Western powers," he added.