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With Putin’s Cooperation, Iran is a Step Closer to Advancing Its Cyber and Tech Capability and Financial Power

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

On Wednesday, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia. In his meeting with Putin, Raisi expressed his desire to expand the relationship between the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Iran and handed Putin a 20-year agreement for enhanced strategic cooperation between the two countries.

In Moscow, Raisi mentioned how Russia and Iran’s cooperation in fighting terrorism, which has occurred since 2014 with the war in Syria, offers other areas of collaboration. Raisi said, “This experience can create the prerequisites for its expansion and exploitation in other fields. In the present circumstances, it is possible to develop cooperation in the fields of economy, politics, culture, science, technology, defense, and military spheres, as well as security and space issues.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian traveled with President Raisi to Moscow as part of his delegation and met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Abdollahian posted a photo of him, Lavrov, to his Instagram, which Overwatch analysts had translated from Farsi to English. The message reads, “There are many issues of strategic cooperation between Russia and Iran. We consider Putin’s Russia to be different than the U.S.S.R. Despite unilateral sanctions, there is a lot of commerce between the two countries. Other issues of mutual interest are investments and neutralizing sanctions.”

For this Overwatch brief, we analyzed the relationship between Russia and Iran since December 2019 and their cooperation in defense, technology, and militarily. Our research focused on identifying information that indicates how increased Iranian-Russian cooperation poses a significant national security threat to the U.S.

From December 2019 to Present

Military: On December 27, 2019, Iran, Russia, and China held joint Naval drills in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman.

Defense: On December 27, 2019, Russia supported Iran by rejecting an UN-approved Iran Arms Embargo extension.

Defense: On December 30, 2019, Russia and Iran jointly condemned U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, which killed members of Kata’ib Hezbollah.

Defense: On January 6, 2020, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said of the U.S. killing of Iranian Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani that the strike would have “grave consequences” for regional stability and that it was an “illegal military action.”

U.S. National Security: On April 21, 2020, the State Department reported that Russia, China, and Iran were pushing joint disinformation about COVID being a U.S. bioweapon.

Defense: On April 28, 2020, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova supported the launch of Iran’s first military satellite and said that the action did not violate international law.

Military: On May 2, 2020, Iran’s Ambassador to Pakistan, Seyyed Mohammad Ali Hosseini, called for a new alliance of 5 countries, including Iran, Pakistan, China, Russia, and Turkey.

Military: On May 29, 2020, the Russian state condemned the U.S. for withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty and for removing sanctions waivers from countries that do business with Iran.

U.S. National Security: On September 10, 2020, Microsoft reports that Iran, Russia, and China tried to disrupt the presidential election with cyberattacks.

U.S. National Security: On October 21, 2020, former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said that Russia and Iran obtained U.S. voter registration data.

Technology: On December 10, 2020, Iran called on the Russian state to develop a substitute payment system for the SWIFT international banking system, which is used by ten thousand banks worldwide. The substitute payment system would lessen the impact of sanctions on Iran.

Defense: On January 26, 2021, the Russian state joined Iran in demanding U.S. President Joe Biden lift economic sanctions if he wants to save the Iran Nuclear Deal and have Iran’s nuclear program remain within the rules of the deal.

Technology: On January 26, 2021, Iran agreed to use Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, with plans to import and produce the product.

Technology: On January 26, 2021, Iran and Russia signed a cooperation agreement for cybersecurity. Iranian state media reports that the agreement focuses on, “strengthening information security, fight against the crimes committed with the use of information and communications technology, technical and technological assistance, and international cooperation including detection, coordination, and collaboration in regional and international organizations to ensure national and international security.”

Military: On February 16, 2021, Iran’s armed forces participated in a naval drill with the Russian Navy in the north of the Indian Ocean designed to increase maritime security.

Defense: On March 09, 2021, the Russian state encouraged the U.S. to revive nuclear deal talks with Iran but suggested the United States needs to end “the meaningless policy of maximum pressure on Iran.”

Technology: On April 13, 2021, Iran and Russia signed a cooperation agreement following the cyberattack on Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant. The details of the deal were not made public.

Defense: On September 17, 2021, The Shanghai Cooperation Organization agrees to grant Iran full membership in its organization. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is an international organization led by China, which consists of Russia, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. SCO member countries aim to build closer cooperation politically, economically, culturally, and in the area of security to stabilize their regions.

Military: On October 18, 2021, Iran’s Chief of Staff of Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri said that Iran and Russia would “strengthen” military cooperation and recognized Iran’s recent acceptance as a full member of the SCO.

Assessment

Moscow and Tehran’s militaries have worked together since Russia’s entrance into the Syrian Civil War in 2014. Initially, the relationship was based on military cooperation between the two countries to counter the United States (U.S.) and its western allies within Syria.

Overwatch analysts assess that Iran will continue to expand relations with Russia as Tehran views Moscow as a world leader to counter U.S. power and influence. The Russian and Iranian relationship will continue to expand beyond their respective militaries.

With Moscow’s resources, investments, and cooperation, Iran could potentially achieve cyber, economic, and technological advancements at a faster pace. A potential outcome of the cyber agreement between both countries is additional Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) groups targeting U.S. cyber interests.

As Iran achieves economic and technological advancements, it will provide financial support and military-grade resources to organizations like Hezbollah and numerous Shi’a extremist militias in the Middle East. Overwatch analysts assess Russia’s funding of Iranian development could indirectly contribute to attacks on U.S. entities, such as the recent rocket attacks on U.S. troops and bases in Iraq.

Further, as Overwatch assessed the relationship between Russia and China, Iran also seeks to limit the leverage of diplomatic sanctions by asking the Russian state to develop an alternative to SWIFT. Iran will continue to build its partnerships with Russia and China, seeking to erode U.S. influence and power, as Overwatch analysts determined in our January 6, 2022, brief.

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