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LONDON: A budding courtship between Russia and Iran is an unwelcome development for the West that the United States will watch with concern, but it falls well short of a geopolitical game changer.
Russian President Vladimir Putin used a rare foreign trip on Tuesday - his first outside the former Soviet Union since he launched the invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 - to hold talks in Tehran with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi, as well as Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
But the fact that Russia and Iran are competing energy producers is likely to place limits on any deeper partnership, even though the two countries are united in their hostility towards the West.
Here's a look at some of the key questions that their developing relationship poses.
CAN IRAN HELP RUSSIA IN THE UKRAINE WAR?
U.S. officials have said Iran is preparing to help supply Russia with several hundred unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, including some that are capable of firing weapons, but neither country has confirmed it. Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov was quoted by RIA news agency as saying Putin had not discussed the issue with Iran's leaders.,
"Russia deepening an alliance with Iran to kill Ukrainians is something that the whole world should look at and see as a profound threat," U.S. National Security adviser Jake Sullivan said last week. Read full story
Ukraine has used Turkish-supplied Bayraktar drones to lethal effect in targeting Russian units and destroying huge quantities of tanks and other armoured vehicles. Jack Watling, a war expert at the RUSI think-tank in London, said Iranian drones would be useful to Russia for both reconnaissance and as loitering munitions that can bide their time in locating and engaging suitable targets.
"Beyond supplying UAVs Iran can also help Russia evade sanctions and potentially collaborate on the manufacture of weapons systems that are less dependent upon supply chains through Western countries," he said.
WHAT CAN RUSSIA LEARN FROM IRAN ON SANCTIONS?
Iran has many years of experience of defending itself against Western sanctions over its disputed nuclear programme. "The Russians see Iran as being highly experienced at, and a potentially valuable partner, in evading Western sanctions," said Watling.
Russia, meanwhile, has been hit with waves of sanctions against banks, businesses and individuals over the war in Ukraine. Both countries therefore lack access to Western technology and capital, said Janis Kluge of the SWP think-tank in Berlin.