Russia and Iran appear to be nearing the finalization of a twenty-year cooperation agreement.

According to reports from Press TV and Amwaj Media‘s Alireza Noori, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh announced in December that a twenty-year cooperation agreement had reached the final phase of its development.

Khabitzadeh noted that “permission from the cabinet to conduct negotiations” was in the process of being obtained.

In 2001, Russia and Iran signed a ten-year cooperation treaty. Since then, similar cooperation agreements have been extended on two occasions, albeit for five-year terms.

This new deal with Russia comes after Iran signed a twenty-five-year “cooperation roadmap” with China in March 2021.

Several international relations experts have argued that U.S. policy of increased political and economic pressure towards Iran has largely alienated the Middle Eastern country and made it consider new strategic partnerships with competitors such as China and Russia.

Artyom Lukin, the Deputy Director for Research at the School of Regional and International Studies for Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, Russia, told The Dallas Express he believes that “Iran’s eagerness to pursue closer ties with Russia has much to do with Iran’s continued confrontation with the U.S.”

The international relations scholar added that he “would not be surprised if we will eventually see a geopolitical bloc consisting of Russia, China and Iran.”

Arta Moeini, the Research Director of The Institute for Peace and Diplomacy, also commented on Iran’s new strategic focus.

Moeini observed that “Iran has been steadily working to hedge its bets against the possible failure of the Vienna negotiations with the West to revive the nuclear deal by deepening its strategic and economic relationships with Russia and China. Tehran, Moscow, and Beijing find common cause against what they see as the aggressive posture of Washington—whether on the JCPOA, or Ukraine, or Taiwan.”

He added, “Iran hopes that reaffirming its economic and military partnership with Russia, coming on the heels of its twenty-five-year cooperation agreement with China, will allow it more strategic flexibility both in terms of circumventing U.S. sanctions and in deterring possible strikes against its nuclear facilities by the U.S. and its allies.”

Similarly, University of Chicago Political Science Professor John Mearsheimer wrote that the U.S.’s maximum pressure strategy and general hawkishness towards Iran would make it more likely to violate international norms and acquire a nuclear weapon. 

Iran originally entered the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) limiting its capacity to build nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions relief and increased international standing when it comes to nuclear non-proliferation compliance.

However, the previous Trump administration’s decision to exit the JCPOA and its subsequent use of “maximum pressure” by increasing sanctions on Iran to limit the country’s influence has compelled the Middle Eastern country to rethink its foreign policy strategy.

Under the presidency of Joe Biden, Iran has continued re-balancing its foreign policy priorities as the Biden administration’s promised return to JCPOA has not come to fruition. 

The Biden administration has so far maintained Trump-era sanctions and even imposed new sanctions, which have created roadblocks in the JCPOA negotiations.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has expressed his skepticism towards taking a more pro-Western direction in foreign policy.

He declared that “trusting the West does not work.” In addition, he argued that Iranian emissaries must “learn” from the “experience” of the previous nuclear negotiations.

The Iranian religious leader said on January 9 that Iran “will not submit to the enemy’s pressure” but did concede that “negotiations and engagement with the enemy is another matter.” 

Iran’s previous experience with the JCPOA and the subsequent hostilities that ensued after the U.S. withdrew from it has made Iranian leaders less sanguine about the prospects of increased engagement between the two countries.

Noori noted that the Raisi government of Iran has pivoted in a different direction with regard to its foreign policy.

Instead of prioritizing re-entry into the JCPOA, Tehran has opted for a “look to the east” strategy akin to the one pursued by former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his time in office from 2005 to 2013.

Former President Hassan Rouhani made a similar foreign policy pivot during his second term (2017-2021), in which Iran bolstered ties with countries such as China and Pakistan.

In effect, Iran has pursued “Eurasianism,” expanding ties with countries in the Eurasian space such as China, India, Russia, and Turkey.

Noori observed that the authorities in Tehran view Russia as a foreign actor that takes a more balanced approach to foreign policy and can cooperate with Iran on several matters.

Iran has already cooperated with Russia in several geopolitical theaters such as Syria, Afghanistan, and the Caucasus region. 

One of the most notable moves that reflects Iran’s shifting focus towards the east was the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s (SCO) move last year to start the process of admitting Iran as a full-time member of the security alliance.

Last year, Iran signed a twenty-five-year deal with China to bolster ties between the two countries in economic, military, and surveillance matters. China will allegedly invest $400 billion into the Iran economy over the course of this partnership agreement.