12/02/2022, 10.18
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Moscow and Tehran, a game of alliances and competition

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The two international 'pariahs' put up a common front against Western sanctions. Cooperation in the military field, with the Russians using Iranian drones in Ukraine. The centrepiece is energy cooperation. However, the Islamic Republic would like to replace Russia as gas supplier to Europe.


Moscow (AsiaNews) - The West's attempt to isolate Russia with sanctions is increasingly proving to be a great opportunity for Iran, which supports Moscow in the "fraternity of the marginalised", while at the same time exploiting large swathes of the markets left uncovered by these changes.

The new alliance between Moscow and Tehran is developing in the military field, with the supply of the famous 'kamikaze drones' and other much-needed armaments to the Russian army. Cooperation is also very active in the energy field, where a memorandum has been signed that envisages a colossal Russian investment in Iranian gas exploitation projects, to the tune of 40 billion dollars.

Russia and Iran occupy the top two places in the world ranking of gas reserves, and their collaboration is seen as a 'global gas cartel'. However, the grandiose plans of the two adversaries of the West are not easy to realise, as the necessary facilities are very expensive, and sanctions limit access to technologies and resources. In the meantime, Russian 'dumping' in the sale of gas to anyone who can replace the European markets is creating quite a few problems for Iran itself, from which the traditional partners expect similar discounts.

Tehran aspires to replace the Russians precisely in exports to Europe, which Moscow particularly fears, although such a conversion does not appear feasible in the short term, again due to Western political constraints. Moscow's isolation does not entail the automatic clearance of Iran, which has been considered the 'rogue state' par excellence for decades now, and to which relations with Russia and Qatar were preferred. The US sanctions against the Iranians relate precisely to natural gas liquefaction technologies and the construction of pipelines to Europe.

Iran's chances of relief from sanctions mainly concern the nuclear agreement, the negotiations of which are currently at a dead end. Even if the situation were to unblock, it would take several years to prepare the liquid gas terminals, not to mention the construction of the pipelines. There is, however, another solution, which Tehran has already hinted at: that of exporting gas to Oman, which possesses the necessary technology, thus also circumventing sanctions.

The Europeans could make agreements with the Sultan of Muscat, to actually import Iranian gas, but even in this case a new 400-kilometre pipeline would be needed, which would require at least two years of work.

It is therefore a question of how to set up cooperation with Moscow, which Iran has long been trying to lure into its gas market, but without realising effective projects so far, with a Gazprom office in Tehran of pure representation. The Russians were afraid of compromising their business by collaborating with a country under sanctions, but now the situation has changed, and already in July an agreement was signed between Gazprom and Iran's national oil company Nioc.

In recent days, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mehdi Safari announced that 6.5 billion of the agreement is already operational in the form of contracts, taking advantage of the most critical moment for Gazprom itself, which is forced to pay huge taxes in the face of a slump in European sales. If this year's revenues were very high, due to price rises, now the phase of contraction is beginning.

Moscow would also like to export gas to Iran via the Tapi (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline, which is not yet in operation. Investment in Iran could decree the definitive downsizing of Russia in the energy markets, to the benefit of Tehran, where many are anticipating the fabulous gains that could be made.

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