Explainer: Why Iran cracks down at home, cozies up to Russia

DUBAI: Backed by the West, Iran is ramping up uranium enrichment, curbing dissent and deepening ties with Russia in a challenge to the US and Europe.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin travel to Tehran next week to meet the Iranian leader – his second foreign trip since sending troops into Ukraine. The surprise announcement came a day after the White House said Tehran was preparing to send armed drones to Russia for use in Ukraine and in front of the US President. Joe Biden towards Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Tehran, cut off from the global banking system by Western sanctions, wants to show it has alternatives. Negotiations to restore the 2015 nuclear deal, which eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, are at an impasse.
Pressure is growing on the Islamic Republic, with its economy shrinking and its people struggling, with no relief in sight.
A look back at the challenges facing Iran and what it means for the world:
A brewing nuclear crisis
Former US President Donald Trump Washington pulled out of the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers in 2018 and sought to squeeze Iran economically until it returned to the negotiating table. A defiant Iran has resumed banned nuclear activity.
Biden took office with a promise to restore the deal. Then the hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi became the leader of Iran, and the nuclear negotiations reached an impasse.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog group, reports that Iran currently has 43 kilograms of uranium enriched to 60 percent – a short step from weapons-grade. That’s enough fissile material for a weapon, if it chooses to pursue one. However, Iran still needs to design a bomb and a delivery system, which could take months. Tehran is filming more advanced centrifuges and has dismantled more than two dozen IAEA cameras monitoring its operations.
Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes. Experts from the United Nations and Western intelligence agencies say Iran has had an organized military nuclear program since 2003.
Experts say Tehran increasingly sees a future without a nuclear accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, setting the stage for a possible crisis.
“The Iranians have come to the conclusion that the JCPOA no longer serves their interests,” said Ali Vaez, Iran project manager at the International Crisis Group. Iran cannot guarantee the US will not abandon the treaty and reimpose sanctions if a new president takes office in 2025.
“That political risk is something no one wants to take on,” Vaez added.
The stakes go beyond Iran. Israel, arch-rival and sole nuclear power in the region, has threatened a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
“Iran could be as rich as 90%, but that would be a very significant escalation and I am pretty confident that,” said John Krzyzaniak, an Iran proliferation expert at the Wisconsin Project. will cause a (military) reaction. class richness.
Iran strengthens repression
In 2019, some believed that Iran’s 40-year revolution could be undone by raising fuel prices by 50%, and the country’s security forces responded ruthlessly to protests across the country. country.
Nearly three years later, Iran is still under crippling sanctions. Inflation skyrocketed, eating away at workers’ incomes. Iran’s currency has plunged, wiping out savings. The government cut subsidies on food items, sparking public outrage. In May, a 10-story tower collapsed in southwestern Iran, killing at least 41 people and exposing corruption.
To stave off unrest, authorities recently arrested protesters angry about high prices, teachers’ union activists, prominent filmmakers and a staunch politician. famous reform.
Two of the detained dissident filmmakers are said to have spoken out in support of the protests over the building collapse.
Sanam Vakil, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House, said: Faced with pressure to fail to deliver on promises of sanctions relief, “the system is directly signaling to people. Iran that it will not tolerate dissent.” .
That message gained momentum when a kind of shadow war between Israel and Iran unfolded openly – on the high seas and on the streets of Tehran.
“Ordinary Iranians who campaign for better rights will be more persecuted because of the current persecution in the name of national security,” Vakil added.
Alliance with Russia
Faced with Western economic backlash over their actions in Ukraine, Moscow considers Tehran an important partner and potential source of weapons. Amid growing diplomatic isolation, Iran is increasingly finding common ground with Russia, including a common rival, Washington.
Biden will visit the Middle East this week – first Israel, Iran’s biggest enemy, and then Saudi Arabia, another Tehran rival – and it’s no coincidence that the White House says Iran is preparing to supply provided Russia with drones and training just days before the trip.
“We think this is of great interest to the countries we’ll be visiting on this trip,” said National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.
Citing a source in the Russian Foreign Ministry, the Interfax news agency described the delivery of the drones as “misinformation” intended to “add impetus to anti-Iran sentiments in Arab countries.”
One purpose of Mr Biden’s trip was to encourage Arab nations to strengthen their security alliances, built on shared fears about Iran.
“We see the emergence of two opposing blocs,” said Yoel Guzansky, a Gulf expert and senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “America is trying to unite the Arab world … with Russia and Iran and perhaps on the opposite side China.”
Military coordination between Tehran and Moscow has intensified since they rallied efforts to support the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s civil war.
Krzyzaniak said that Iran’s drone capabilities could be valuable to Russia. According to Western officials and UN experts, the Iranian aircraft, which in some cases mimics the design of US military drones, is tested by Yemen’s Houthi rebels against the coalition. military led by Saudi Arabia.
But the Iran-Russia relationship is not without friction.
Their former empires were rivals for centuries, and Russia’s occupation of Iran during World War II – and its refusal to leave afterwards – fueled distrust for decades.
Those old differences are playing out in new ways. Experts say Russia’s sanctioned oil, which is now heavily discounted to crude from Iran, is eating into Tehran’s share of the key Chinese market and forcing it to cut prices.
Other differences include Putin’s friendly relationship with Israel. As part of a delicate balancing act, the Kremlin has made deals in Syria, such as in 2018 when Moscow asked Tehran to keep its warplanes away from the Golan Heights to settle Israeli concerns.
But with increasing pressure on both countries, their relationship seems certain to evolve.
For Russia, Iran represents a source of expertise on how to avoid sanctions and access the world’s black market. Bilateral trade is booming, according to Tehran-based political analyst Saeed Leilaz, noting that Russia has increased imports of Iranian products and sought trade routes to India.
For Iran, “foreign policy is dictated by what the system considers in its survival best interests,” said Vaez, of the International Crisis Group.

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