On strategic rapprochement between Tehran, Moscow, and Beijing

Sergey Shoigu in Iran, September 20
Sergey Shoigu in Iran, September 20

There is a lot of injustice in the world today. To understand this, you don't need to conduct a sociological study; just look at the Middle East conflict.

Injustice generates resentment, inspires action, and triggers a new cycle of violence. The nature of conflicts, such as those in the Middle East, is that it is almost impossible to escape the quagmire of mutual hatred. Communities look for arguments and use narratives that mobilize for war rather than solutions.

This statement is not new. The horrors of the world wars prompted humanity to look for instruments to regulate conflicts, such as the UN. The principle of operation of its effective structures, such as the UN Security Council, was based on the balance of interests of a limited number of participants - the countries that won the war - and this principle has become hopelessly outdated at the beginning of the twenty-first century. This compromise between the world of democracy and the world of authoritarianism could not exist indefinitely. The collapse of the Soviet bloc shifted the balance towards democracies, stimulated globalization, and created a new geopolitical reality where the losing side, having taken advantage of it, sought revenge.

Why did this happen? After all, the calculation was for a positive-sum game.

Having gotten rid of authoritarianism, gained the tools of democracy and access to new technologies, and possessing numerous resources, Russia had every chance of winning. Isn't that right? The technological advantage the United States and its Western allies had was the deterrent that helped keep the balance. The West did not get the expected result by voluntarily removing this advantage in favor of a positive-sum game. On the contrary, technology, including military technology, has given authoritarian regimes a second wind. It turns out that success, which it undoubtedly was, can be achieved without a painstaking and painful restructuring of the social organism, and democracy is easily replaced by populism and the cultivation of resentment.

A common "fortress under siege"

Much could be written about Russia's strategic culture. I will limit myself to formulating its main postulates. Russians think polyphonically, i.e., they try to invent an explanatory scheme where events are interconnected in an intricate web of cause and effect. This is very similar to the way of thinking of conspiracy theorists. The central postulate here is a deliberate policy of containment of Russia by Western countries. A policy that has remained unchanged for centuries. According to the Russians, all attempts to reach an understanding are fraught with deception. It is not surprising that Putin's main message in recent years has been that they have been "cheated." That is why the psychology of a "besieged fortress" finds understanding and response in countries such as Iran.

In this situation, Ukraine finds itself in the middle of this strategic confrontation

This country also suffers from the realization that it is in a hostile environment. A perceived or real threat prompts Tehran to retaliate. The country's expansion in the Middle East, which became evident after 2015 with the creation of a "Shiite corridor" from Iran's western borders to the eastern Mediterranean, was a strategic response to Western attempts to prevent the development of its nuclear program. The solidarity decisions of the UN Security Council members that preceded the negotiations, namely the imposition of sanctions against Iran, seriously frightened Tehran and became an unfortunate reminder that the Ayatollahs' regime has no allies. Therefore, the strategic response to this challenge was rapprochement with Russia against the backdrop of the war in Syria. The promoter of this rapprochement was Major General Qassem Soleimani of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), commander of the Quds Force.

Initially, the interaction between Russia and Iran in Syria was primarily tactical. Iran bore the brunt of the war, conducting most ground operations, while Russia received political dividends. Thanks to the Syrian campaign, it returned to the negotiating table with the United States, secured its stable presence in the Middle East, and successfully deterred Israel by imposing a model of constant consultations and vague backroom deals on the Netanyahu government. Despite dissatisfaction with the unfair balance between the distribution of responsibilities and the political dividends it received, Iran continued moving closer to Russia. However, it was too early to talk about a strategic alliance between the two countries at that time. Instead, Moscow used the Iran factor to continue negotiations with the United States, especially as the new Joe Biden administration came to the White House, aiming to return the United States to the nuclear deal.

The situation changed radically for all of the above players after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Even before the events of February 24, Moscow was taking steps to prevent the successful completion of the negotiation process between Washington and Tehran in December 2021, insisting on exclusive conditions for itself in cooperation with Iran. After the radical conservative political forces led by Ebrahim Raisi came to power in Iran, political contacts turned into a strategic alliance. The warnings that Russia cannot be considered a reliable ally and references to the historical wrongs inflicted on Iran by Russia are not taken into account. It is in July 2022 that the Tehran-Moscow axis is finally formed, and a fundamental agreement is reached on the supply of Shahed-type attack drones to Russia.

China, which has long remained aloof from these processes, taking a wait-and-see attitude, is now making a rather successful attempt to intervene in the course of events in the Middle East after Xi Jinping's re-election as General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee and President of the People's Republic of China. The course of the project, which involves concentrating resources and closing the country to Western influences, and preparations for the war for Taiwan, make the Chinese leadership sensitive to the thesis of a multipolar world against the background of the desired strategic defeat of the United States.

Unlike Moscow, Beijing is being more cautious in the Middle East. It relies on peaceful initiatives - the settlement of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, on the one hand, and financial incentives, on the other. Saudi Arabia, led by the ambitious Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is entering the game, maneuvering between the interests of the United States, a traditional ally, and China, which promises to rain golden investments in the prince's own projects.

Muhammad bin Salman sees the kingdom not only as a dynamically developing and modernizing state, but also as a key Muslim country in the Middle East that can challenge the old rules of the game, established mainly by the West. At the same time, China is actively developing contacts with Iran, stimulating the development of entire industries in the country. China's main interest in the region is objectively emerging, which is not only related to the traditional "One Belt, One Road" doctrine, but also involves strategic deterrence of the United States in the Indian Ocean to prevent blocking the routes of transportation of goods from and to China through the Strait of Malacca.

Systemic convergence

In parallel with these events, there is a complex process of normalization of relations between Israel and Arab countries, better known as the "Abraham Accords." The experience of concluding peace agreements between Israel, on the one hand, and Egypt and Jordan, on the other, in the 1970s and 1990s inspired generations of American politicians. Although the peace was cold, and the Palestinian issue remained unresolved, it was a strategic framework through which Washington could successfully respond to existing security threats in the region.

After Oman, Morocco, the UAE, and Sudan, the most anticipated agreement was between Israel and Saudi Arabia. The normalization of Israel's relations with the Arabs posed a real threat to Russia and Iran, as the former lost its broker status, and the latter once again found itself in a hostile environment. Saudi Arabia made the creation of a Palestinian state a condition for normalizing relations, which also posed a threat to Hamas, which, in this case, lost its raison d'être. Thus, enough forces were ready to interfere with the US strategic plans.

The rapprochement between Moscow, Tehran, and Beijing is systemic and meets the needs of these countries, which have challenged the world built according to Western rules, either directly, as in the case of Russia, or indirectly, as in the case of China. Iran, in turn, has gained long-awaited allies that have opened the doors to the SCO and BRICS. Unlike the war in Ukraine, the war in Israel and the ground operation in the Gaza Strip could have a significant negative impact on the positions of the countries of the Global South, which is likely to be one of the strategic objectives of Moscow and Beijing. Therefore, it is not surprising that in his speech on the war in Israel and Ukraine, the US President spoke about the strategic challenge posed by authoritarian countries to the democratic world.

In this situation, Ukraine finds itself in the middle of this strategic confrontation. The US president's speech dotted the i's and crossed the t's and proclaimed the Western world's readiness to resolutely oppose attempts to rewrite international rules. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken's concept seems to have won this time. Now, it's time to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia and its allies.

We’re bringing the voice of Ukraine to the world. Support us with a one-time donation, or become a Patron!

Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine