On January 19, 2023, Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, interviewed on the Turkish TVT World TV channel, said that Tehran does not recognize Crimea, Lugansk and Donetsk People's Republics, and Kherson and Zaporozhye regions as part of Russia. According to the Iranian Foreign Minister, despite "excellent relations" with Moscow, Iran recognizes the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. The minister also said that the Iranian authorities insist on their "consistent principle" in foreign policy. "When we say that the conflict in Ukraine is not a solution, we believe in our position as a fundamental political principle."
While the Iranian Foreign Minister's statement was widely reported in the Russian media, it did not arouse dismay or anger, and, with the exception of Middle East expert Stanislav Tarasov, few detected any anti-Russian undercurrents in the statement.
An article that appeared on a popular news site, titled "Russia Has Found an Ally for Defense Against NATO in Central Asia," contrasted Turkey, that had adapted a mediation role out of self-interest, with Iran, that was a true ally. The article emphasized Iran's importance to Russia in checking Turkey's ambitions in Central Asia.
The January 23 visit to Tehran of a parliamentary delegation headed by Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin was further evidence of the fact that Russia was cementing its ties with Iran. The Russian delegation met with members of the Islamic Consultative Assembly and its speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf.
Volodin stated: "Today, relations between Russia and Iran are reaching a new level, which is distinguished by the strengthening of mutual trust and the deepening of practical interaction."
While shying away from mentioning the growing military cooperation between the two countries in public statements, Volodin hailed the burgeoning economic cooperation that will encompass cooperation in such areas as trade, transport, logistics, energy, agriculture, banking, investments, and customs regulation. "This is actually unprecedented in our relations, because they cover almost all areas," Volodin added.
The Duma Speaker noted the convergence between the two countries on international issues: "Russia and Iran jointly uphold the principles of sovereign equality and non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, stand for multipolarity and a fair world order in the interests of the peoples of our countries.
"Today, Russia and Iran successfully resist the international expansion of the United States of America and the NATO bloc. This is confirmed by the unprecedented sanctions pressure on our countries. Washington and its satellites want to stop the development of our states in this way, interfere in internal affairs, and spread misinformation. We saw this in the example of a demarche prepared from abroad related to a demonstration in Iran last year. These attempts are doomed to failure: our countries will never submit to outside dictates."
MEMRI report on reactions in Russia to Amir-Abdollahian's comment follows below:
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (Source: En.irna.ir/news)
Andrei Klimov: Amir-Abdollahian's Comment Has No Real Effect
Andrei Klimov, Deputy Chairman at the Federation Council Committee on Foreign Affairs, said that Iranian Foreign Minister's statement had no real effect on the issue and that the important thing was the cooperation on other issues:
"Our task is to ensure that regarding all other issues, of which there are many more, these states act in accordance with our national interests. We are cooperating on a number of other very serious and important issues. The UN charter doesn't state that a country has to recognize someone else's decision and only then does it become right."
Klimov also noted that Iran has not been causing problems for visitors from the annexed Crimea.
"We have to deal with the fact that people with passports issued by the Republic of Crimea face restrictions in some countries. But it is fair to say that in Serbia and Iran, the Crimeans don't experience such difficulties. In a number of very important countries, meetings of Crimean delegations, including the leaders of the Republic of Crimea, take place as usual."
Professor Aleksander Gusev, head of the Institute of Strategic Planning, urged Russia not to treat Amir-Abdollahian's statement with hostility. "This is not a country with which careless policy can be conducted. It enjoys a very strong position not only in the Muslim world, but in the entire international relations system.
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"That's why I believe that such statements shouldn't be taken with hostility, because there is, in fact, a Russian military operation underway, and countries are concerned about these events. Iran has the right to convey its point of view in a complex international situation.
"He said it, well, good for him. True, we take it seriously, we analyze what is being said, what is being written, including by such high-ranking officials," added Gusev.
Aleksander Gusev (Souce: Ria.ru)
Nikolai Bobkin: Iran Is Sensitive To The Territorial Integrity Issue Due To The Challenges It Faces
Nikolai Bobkin, a Senior [Research] Fellow at the Centre for Political and Military Studies at the Institute of the U.S. and Canada of the Russian Academy of Sciences, noted that Tehran's statement is nothing new. Iran advocated for Ukraine's territorial integrity when Crimea became part of Russia in 2014, and also when the Special Military Operation was launched in February 2022. Bobkin noted the sensitivity of the territorial integrity issue for Iran:
"The main reason is that Iran is a most multiethnic state. There is a Kurdish problem. The Kurds, as you know, reside in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria. They are in favor of an independent Kurdistan. Iran does not support such policy among the Kurds, be they either Syrian or Iraqi. Therefore, this is a sensitive issue for them, and they won't support accession of Crimea and other new territories into Russia," explained Bobkin.
Bobkin also pointed out that Iran has ongoing border disputes with neighboring states: "Iran has them [border disputes] with Turkey, Iraq, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. So, they don't want to set a precedent when something [state borders] will be reconsidered."
The scholar noted that Iran's pro-Kyiv statements regarding Ukraine's territorial integrity were counterbalanced by the statement of support for Russia. "They were saying: 'We stress our commitment to the territorial integrity of Ukraine,' on the one hand. On the other hand, they state and continue to state that these events were facilitated by the U.S. actions against Russia. In this regard, we have their support, and they are helping us, supplying their drones," said Bobkin.
Nikolai Bobkin (Source: Kurdistan.ru)
A slightly discordant note was sounded by Middle East expert Stanislav Tarasov, who believes that Amir-Abdollahian's comments should cause some concern.
Tarasov suspects that this was a gesture to the West as part of the negotiations over reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal: "The statement is unconventional, unexpected, no one forced them to do it. I believe there are some behind-the-scenes contacts with the West; these have been developed in relation to the Iranian nuclear deal. They negotiate some conditions for the deal and so on, and this is how they position themselves in the international arena."
Tarasov also makes the point that Russo-Iranian relations had not been trouble-free:
"Iran still has not forgiven us for canceling sale of the S-300 complexes when Medvedev was president. Back then we also joined the U.S. sanctions," noted Tarasov.
"The second aspect is that one shouldn't think of Iran as a pro-Russian country... There are anti-Russian and anti-American sentiments there, as well as pro-Western ones. There is an ongoing eternal struggle in Iran. Things are not as straightforward as it may seem."
However, Tarasov believes that the best way to eliminate anti-Russian sentiments is to move ahead with military and economic cooperation including the supply of advanced Russian aircraft.
Russia Needs Iran In Central Asia
An article by Yekaterina Lazareva in the Ura.ru outlet claimed that it was not only the Western pressure that has brought Russian and Iran together, but also the shared interests of the two nations in Central Asia. While the article spoke of NATO in Central Asia, the chief concern was one NATO member in particular – Turkey.
"Russia has found an ally to protect its interests in Central Asia from NATO. It's Iran, which, like Russia, is being pressured by the West. This has brought the two states closer together militarily, politically, and economically," explained the expert to Ura.ru.
Russia is pursuing relations with both Turkey and Iran, according to Maksim Alontsev, a Senior Lecturer at the National Research University. Russia needs the two countries for logistical purposes, as they offer new transport routes in lieu of European routes severed as a consequence of the war in Ukraine. "New logistics in general are being established [...] the Russian leadership is betting on Turkey and Iran."
However, it is not an equal bet. Nikolai Bobkov believes that the relationship with Turkey is more problematic. "Turkey plays an important role in the Ukrainian conflict, the role of a mediator. It is not on our side, but at the same time it has not joined the sanctions against Russia.
"Erdogan does it in his country's interests. Russia's friendship with Iran is built on a common anti-American stance. Iran is the primary antagonist of the U.S. in the Middle East. Iran did not support the Russian Special Military Operation in Ukraine but acknowledged that it was triggered by U.S. and NATO policy," explained Bobkov.
Vladimir Yevseyev, Director at the Center for Social and Political Studies, recalled that Turkey remained a NATO member-state, and this precludes fully trusting them. According to Yevseyev, trade relations and military-technical cooperation with Iran were developing much more rapidly than with Turkey.
One reason for this imbalance, explained Yevseyev, was the Russian suspicion of Turkey's designs in Central Asia. "Turkey's policies in the post-Soviet space present challenges for Russia. For instance, let's look at their interaction with Kazakhstan – in August, they passed an agreement on exchanging intelligence, which contradicts the norms of the CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organization], of which Kazakhstan is a member.
"In contrast, Iran's actions in the post-Soviet space do not pose such challenges. It doesn't enjoy that kind of influence in Central Asia, Russia can help it to increase it. And for Russia itself (which now alone opposes NATO policy in this region), Iran's strengthening would be a deterrent for the North Atlantic Alliance." 
Vladimir Yevseyev (Source: Bloknot.ru)