Tehran, Iran – Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi has said his visit to Moscow could mark a “turning point” in bilateral relations between the two countries ahead of a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Before departing for the Russian capital on Wednesday for a two-day trip, the Iranian president described Iran and Russia as strong, independent and influential nations in the region who could boost their security and trade through maintaining close dialogue.
“We have common interests with Russia and our collaboration and common interests could certainly create security and combat unilateralism in the region,” Raisi said in a quip to the United States, which has imposed different levels of sanctions against both countries.
Raisi added that the current level of ties has been satisfactory neither to Iran nor to Russia, so they both wish to use this visit to make improvements.
Political, economic, energy, trade, and space issues will be among topics discussed in Moscow, according to the president.
Their previous 20-year agreement ended last year and while it could be automatically renewed for another five years, both sides agreed it needed improvements.
The two countries have been working to sign a new and improved long-term bilateral cooperation agreement, but it is not expected to be finalised during Raisi’s visit.
Raisi and Putin were initially scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Tajikistan in September, but the Russian president had to go into isolation over a COVID-19 infection among his officials.
With support from all seven permanent members, Iran’s bid to become a full member of the SCO was approved at the time, signalling a diplomatic victory amid the harsh US sanctions levelled against it in 2018, when then US President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal.
Trump’s successor Joe Biden promised to revive the landmark 2015 deal that put a cap on Tehran’s nuclear programme in lieu of sanctions relief.
‘Planned trilateral drills with China and Iran’
In Moscow, Raisi is accompanied by his foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, economy minister Ehsan Khandoozi, and petroleum minister Javad Owji.
In what is the first visit to Russia by an Iranian president since 2017, Raisi will address Russia’s lower house of parliament, the Duma, on Thursday.
He is also scheduled to meet with a number of Iranians living in Russia and hold a session with Russian businesspeople.
Upgrading economic cooperation will be a key priority of the trip, said Samuel Ramani, associate fellow at the Royal United Service Institute (RUSI), adding that Russia will also use the trip to facilitate a return to the Iran nuclear deal.
“Cooperation on regional security issues will also feature, as Moscow highlights its Gulf security plan and planned trilateral drills with China and Iran,” he told Al Jazeera.
“On Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen, Russia and Iran are likely to hold consultations, and we should watch in particular for their responses to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and the Houthi strike on the UAE.”
Ramani also said while Russia was a champion of lifting the arms embargo on Iran, a major arms deal is not expected soon as it could affect Russia’s overall policy in the Middle East.
Russia has repeatedly said it supports the restoration of the landmark accord and the full lifting of US sanctions that are inconsistent with the deal.
After a United Nations embargo on Iran’s purchase of conventional arms came to an end despite US objections in October 2020, Iran has been interested in purchasing advanced Russian weapons, including fighter jets, helicopters and tanks.