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The Farda Briefing: Iran, Russia Deepen Ties In Face Of Western Sanctions, International Isolation  


Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Tehran on July 19.

Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter.

I'm senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here's what I've been following and what I'm watching out for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Iran on July 19 to bolster ties with Tehran. In only his second trip abroad after Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February, Putin met Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.

In a sign of deepening relations, Khamenei voiced strong backing for Putin and appeared to endorse Moscow’s invasion. While Putin also met the presidents of Turkey and Syria in Tehran, his trip put the focus on growing ties between Tehran and Moscow. His visit came after U.S. President Joe Biden’s tour of the Middle East last week, during which he visited Israel and Saudi Arabia, Tehran’s regional foes, and vowed to counter Iran's threat in the region.

Why It Matters: Iran and Russia have tried to boost trade and military cooperation in recent years. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought the sides even closer. Both countries have been hit by Western sanctions and international isolation. Putin’s trip appeared designed to show that Tehran and Moscow have not been isolated.

Since then-U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the Iran nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions in 2018, Tehran has followed a policy of "looking to the East," turning to allies Russia and China.

In turn, Russia has been the target of unprecedented Western sanctions following its invasion of Ukraine, forcing Moscow to also look to the East for political allies and trade partners. The policy of siding with Moscow has been viewed skeptically by an Iranian public that distrusts Russia. Iranians have been critical of Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine.

What's Next: Before Putin’s trip, the National Iranian Oil Company and Russian gas producer Gazprom signed a memorandum of understanding worth around $40 billion. In recent months, the countries have also pledged to increase trade cooperation. Despite the announcements, bilateral trade has not significantly increased.

The war in Ukraine has also resulted in Russia and Iran competing in the energy sector. Moscow has been offering discounted oil to Iran’s customers, resulting in Tehran’s exports falling sharply. It remains to be seen if plans by Iran and Russia to boost trade will materialize. Tehran and Moscow are also bolstering military cooperation. Washington has alleged that Iran is preparing to send hundreds of combat drones to Russia to use in its war in Ukraine, a move that could be a turning point in relations.

Stories You Might Have Missed

A court in Tehran has said acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi must serve a six-year sentence he was handed more than a decade ago for supporting anti-government rallies. Days prior to his arrest, Panahi was among more than 300 Iranian filmmakers and cultural activists who issued a statement condemning the recent arrests of cinematographers Mohammad Rasulof and Mostafa al-Ahmad. Panahi originally served two months in prison after his 2010 conviction before being granted a conditional release, which was revocable. As part of his release, he was banned from directing or writing screenplays, and from traveling abroad.

Iranian lawmaker Mostafa Mirsalim has revealed that his son has been jailed for having contacts with the exiled opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), which is considered a terrorist group by Tehran. Mirsalim, a former presidential candidate, said his son was sentenced to five years in prison in February 2020 after being convicted of national security charges. Mirsalim said the MKO had attempted to use his son’s “weak point” to access classified information that he did not have access to.

What We’re Watching

In a landmark ruling in Sweden, a former Iranian official was sentenced to life in prison over the mass executions of up to 5,000 political prisoners in Iran in 1988. Hamid Nouri, who is believed to have served as an assistant to the deputy prosecutor at the Gohardasht prison in the city of Karaj, is the first person to be sentenced for his role in one of the Islamic republic’s darkest chapters. He was convicted of a "serious crime against international law" and "murder."

Why It Matters: The verdict is a victory for the families of the victims, survivors, and rights activists who have been demanding justice for decades. Nouri is likely to appeal the verdict, which was condemned by Tehran as “political.” Iran is likely to look for ways to put pressure on Sweden to release and return Nouri to Iran. The verdict comes following the recent detention of several Westerners in Iran. Iran also holds Swedish-Iranian researcher Ahmadreza Jalili, who was sentenced to death after being convicted of espionage. Tehran has long been accused of using detained foreign and dual nationals as pawns to gain leverage in its dealings with Western countries.

That’s all from me for now. Don't hesitate to send us any questions, comments, or tips that you have by responding to this e-mail or separately to newsletters@rferl.org.

Until next time,

Golnaz Esfandiari

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

About This Newsletter


The Farda Briefing is an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. Written by senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari and other reporters from Radio Farda.

The Farda Briefing is currently on a summer hiatus. In the meantime, please let us know what you have enjoyed about the newsletter in its current format, and what changes or suggestions you have for the future. Please send them to newsletters@rferl.org.

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