When Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited Moscow on May 14, his goal was to discuss the future of the Iranian nuclear deal with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. The men also used the meeting to discuss the wider agenda of their countries’ bilateral relations, but above all, Zarif confirmed that they seriously intend to continue economic cooperation despite new US sanctions.
Preservation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) will play a key role in Moscow-Tehran relations. Russia assumes that sanctions on Iran that prevent Western investors from accessing the Iranian economy won’t be lifted anytime soon. Moscow also holds no illusions that Russian business can completely replace the West’s for Iran; instead, Russia is interested in filling niches it finds valuable. At the same time, the Kremlin wants to avoid provoking stronger US sanctions, as they could complicate business for Russian companies in Iran. Hence, Moscow demonstrates a clear interest in securing Iran’s continued participation in the JCPOA.
Russian-Iranian cooperation is developing slowly, in keeping with Moscow’s patient approach. Still, Russian businesses are demonstrating serious interest in Iran’s oil and gas, agricultural, transport and energy sectors. Moscow encourages contacts with Iranian businesses of all sizes.
Moscow is experiencing a slate of difficulties in Iran: the high political and economic risks of doing business there, a lack of transparency regarding economic environments, an absence of effective foreign business protection in Iran, anti-Iranian sanctions, Iran’s isolation from the international financial system and Russia’s own continued technological backwardness.