Russia and Iran are negotiating a multi-billion dollar arms deal, including the purchase of Russian planes and submarines, and Russia is looking to Iran for support in circumventing Western sanctions. Following a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed that Moscow would work with Tehran to take steps to evade Western sanctions. Pictured: Lavrov (R) and Amir-Abdollahian conduct a joint press conference in Moscow on March 15, 2022. (Photo by Maxim Shemetov/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)
Thanks to the Biden administration's ill-judged obsession with reviving the flawed nuclear deal with Iran, the world can soon look forward to the creation of a new "axis of evil" between Russia and Iran.
In recent months, as negotiations over reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the deal's official title, have continued in Vienna, Western negotiators have expressed concern about the negative support Iran is receiving from Russia in the talks.
Instead of concentrating on key issues, such as Iran's enrichment activities that Western intelligence officials believe are part of Tehran's attempts to develop nuclear weapons, the Russians have encouraged the Iranian negotiating team to focus on relatively minor issues, such as the location of monitoring cameras at key Iranian nuclear installations, which are vital for monitoring their enrichment facilities.
Now Western security officials believe that Iran and Russia have struck a cooperation deal to work together to evade Western sanctions once a new nuclear deal has been agreed by the Biden administration.
Iran is known to have established a clandestine banking and finance system to handle tens of billions of dollars in annual trade banned under U.S.-led sanctions.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Iranian system comprises accounts in foreign commercial banks, proxy companies registered outside the country, firms that coordinate the banned trade, and a transaction clearinghouse within Iran.
The Kremlin is desperate to find ways to circumvent Western sanctions that have been imposed in retaliation for Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to launch an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The sanctions have had a devastating impact on the Russian economy, with the rouble losing half its value since the start of the year.
To mitigate the impact of the sanctions, which are likely to remain in place for as long as Mr Putin remains in power, the Kremlin is desperately looking for new sanctions-busting opportunities. In secret negotiations conducted between Russian and Iranian officials in recent weeks, Iran, according to Western security officials, has offered to provide Russia with access to its illegal sanctions-busting network in return for Moscow's support in getting a new nuclear deal in place.
Iran is desperate to sign a new agreement in return for the Biden administration agreeing to lift the crippling economic sanctions against Iran which, despite its efforts to evade the measures, has still had a negative impact on the country's economy, prompting widespread anti-regime protests.
Last month, EU officials involved in the talks said that an agreement was "essentially ready and on the table," but the talks stalled after Russia demanded that its existing trading ties with Iran would not be affected as a result of the Western sanctions imposed against Moscow over Ukraine.
Russia and Iran are in the process of negotiating a multi-billion dollar arms deal, including the purchase of Russian warplanes and submarines, and Moscow is keen that the deal will not be scuppered as a result of Western sanctions.
Consequently, Russia is looking to Iran for support in circumventing Western sanctions. Following a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in China this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed that Moscow would work with Tehran to take steps to evade Western sanctions, the RIA news agency reported.
Western security officials believe the outline of a sanctions-busting deal between Moscow and Tehran is already in place, with Iran promising not to enforce Western sanctions against Russia. As part of the deal, Iran has offered to use its existing evasion network to help Russia sell its oil on international markets once the nuclear deal is signed, and sanctions have been lifted against Tehran.
Plans by Russia and Iran to cooperate on evading international sanctions certainly provide a strong argument in favour of the Biden administration ending its obsession with concluding a new nuclear deal with Iran.
The White House has already attracted bitter criticism following Iran's latest demand at the Vienna talks that the US agrees to remove Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs).
The prospects of Washington agreeing to that demand may have altered slightly, but not nearly enough, after the US this week imposed new sanctions against Iran and an IRGC unit in response to recent missile attacks launched against Iraq, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and Shia militias.
The imposition of these measures is certainly a long overdue recognition by the Biden administration that Iran is simply exploiting the nuclear negotiations to further its own regional ambitions. And the fact that Iran and Russia are now actively colluding to evade Western sanctions, thereby forming a new "axis of evil", should finally persuade the White House to end once and for all its involvement in this gross act of diplomatic folly.
Con Coughlin is the Telegraph's Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.