In recent months, there has been increasing discussion about the growing relationship between Russia and Iran. Both countries have been at odds with the West in various ways, so, unsurprisingly, there is some concern about what a deeper military collaboration could mean for the region.

The Potential Risks of Russian-Iranian Military Cooperation Amid Sanctions

According to assessments by western officials, Russia has refrained from buying ballistic missiles from Iran out of fear that Ukraine’s allies would counter by supplying Kyiv with long-range rockets in response. This reluctance indicates the potential risks involved in such a move, considering the United States threat to provide Kyiv with the long-sought “Atacms” missile system, which has a 300km range and could reach deep into Russian territory.

The emergence of this risk is further exacerbated by Iran’s willingness to engage in military cooperation with Russia. In recent months, it has sent hundreds of armed drones to Russia, which have been used to attack Ukrainian critical infrastructure. Consequently, this development has raised concerns among western capitals, who believe that Tehran may be planning more military operations in collaboration with Moscow and could eventually result in an armed confrontation between Russia and Ukraine. 

Former CIA director and retired army general General David Petraeus warned that the US would obviously retaliate if these two nations continued to bond over their alliance against Ukraine and NATO.

“Just to give you a hypothetical, we would respond by leading a Nato – a collective – effort that would take out every Russian conventional force that we can see and identify on the battlefield in Ukraine and also in Crimea and every ship in the Black Sea,” he told ABC News.

Moreover, these concerns have been further reinforced by recent events – notably the US withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). As a result, Iran is now under more significant economic pressure than ever before. This could push it to increase its reliance on Russia for support and resources, especially defense spending. Therefore if such an arrangement were established between them, then it is highly likely that Moscow would leverage its position in order to gain access to Iranian military technology, which would significantly increase its capacity to project power beyond its current borders or pose threats against other countries – particularly those located close by. 

“This is a situation that obviously troubles all of us a great deal,” says Julianne Smith, US ambassador to NATO. “It is a topic of conversation inside the alliance. And we will continue to send signals to Iran about the dangers of supporting Russia with material support in its attacks and war inside Ukraine.”