Russian President Putin has been caught up in accusations of interference in the upcoming US presidential election. He is believed to be supporting Mr Trump’s re-election, as the US leader is continuing to pull his troops out of the Middle East and weaken alliances between Western nations. Following the tensions that arose between the US and Iran when Mr Trump ordered the deadly drone attack upon military commander Qassem Soleimani, Mr Putin has reportedly been pushing to assert his authority in the region to an even greater extent.
However, former Iranian diplomat Hossein Rassam told Express.co.uk last week that Mr Putin was already on the lookout for opportunities in the Middle East even before the dramatic death.
The Iran International editor said: “Even with Soleimani present, Russia actively capitalised on the chaos in the Middle East and I think Syria is a good example.”
He claimed the country had set itself up in a powerful position over the last few years.
Mr Rassam explained: “In the wake of increased pressure on Iran, Russians are even more seriously considering the scenario of military partnership with Iran – both in Iran and in the Persian gulf.
“So I don’t think Russians saw this scenario materialising in the absence of Qassem Soleimani.
“Even with Soleimani present, that was tact they were trading in.”
The Pentagon has long been worried about Russia’s growing influence in Iran, with one official claiming “we are watching this relationship closely” in May last year.
The two nations’ relationship has been growing stronger as Mr Trump has been withdrawing his troops out of the region.
He has also been imposing strict sanctions on Tehran ever since he pulled out of the Iranian nuclear deal in May 2018, in an effort to reduce the country’s nuclear power capabilities.
As Mr Rassam explained, Mr Trump’s actions in the Middle East may have affected Russia’s growing power in the region as a result.
He said: “I guess for President Trump [the strengthening of Russia] is more of a side-effect and collateral damage of his policy in the Middle East at the cost of trying to bring the Islamic Republic to its knees through maximum pressure policies.
“So yes, as a side-effect, generally the way that President Trump and his predecessor President Obama pursued a Middle East policy, gradually Russia has gained a stronger standing in the Middle East.
“That’s been the side-effect of their policy towards the Middle East.”
The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour also explained back in October how both Tehran and Moscow “will also see opportunities amid the chaos created by Trump’s impulsiveness”.
He continued: “Putin, who is seeking to embed Russia’s influence across the Middle East, will see a chance to exploit what is viewed as Trump’ betrayal of the Kurds, the US’s bloodied battering ram in the fight against ISIS.
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“The lesson is clear: when the crunch comes, the US will not have your back, Putin will argue.”
A former deputy national intelligence officer for Russia told Foreign Policy in January that Mr Putin is “extremely opportunistic”.
Andrea Kendall-Taylor, who used to work at the National Intelligence Council for Russia and Eurasia continued: “He will therefore seek to capitalise on every opportunity he can to use the assassination of Soleimani and any ensuing instability to tarnish Washington’s reputation in the region.”
However, it is not a certainty that Mr Putin will set up a military partnership with Iran.
Moscow has also strengthened its relationships with Israel and Saudi Arabia in recent years – two countries which are Tehran’s foes.
Throughout the crisis between the US and Iran, Mr Putin has tried to remain on good terms with all of the major players in the Middle East. Many critics speculate that he will do this by undermining the US to further Russia’s position as a regional power broker – but is unlikely to back more Iranian retaliations.
Russia may have condemned Soleimani’s murder, but it should be noted that the nation is also meeting with Iran, China, France, Germany and Britain tomorrow to discuss maintaining the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, in the hope that Iran will stick to it.
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