The Supreme Leader's advisers in Tehran argue the Islamic Republic must back Russia in Ukraine because Russia is fighting a common enemy: the Western alliance.
When he welcomed visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin last month, Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reassured his guest that Moscow rightfully defended itself when invading Ukraine. Speaking in Tehran, Khamenei declared: "Westerners are entirely opposed to a strong and independent Russia," and termed the NATO alliance "a dangerous creature."
His rambling speech continued, filled with baseless claims about NATO, saying the Western military alliance "knows no limits" and "would have provoked this same war, with Crimea as its excuse," if Putin hadn't acted first.
Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor of the conservative Tehran paper Kayhan, which reputedly reflects the Supreme Leader's thinking, wrote in an editorial a week after Putin's visit and evoked a "celestial perspective" that could see the realities behind "the curtain" of the war. Khamenei, the editor wrote, knows that if America were to win this war, Iran would become its next target, which is why he considers the Russian "resistance" in Ukraine as tied to the Iranian regime's own security.
Thus, he concluded of Khamenei: "logically and naturally, he backs it."
A foreign affairs adviser to Khamenei, Aliakbar Velayati, has said China and Russia are Iran's "true friends" and constituted, alongside the Islamic Republic, three "important and independent powers opposed to American and Western expansionism" and key members of the "non-aligned movement."
He may have forgotten there is no longer a Soviet Union or a Warsaw Pact, and that in any case Iran's revolutionary regime vowed in 1979 not to align itself with either East or West. He too backed Khamenei's declarations in favor of Russia's war on Ukraine.
Part of Putin's aim in visiting Tehran was to drag the Iranian regime into his war
The website Jahan News has observed that the Supreme Leader's position on Ukraine and decision to supply Russia with drones showed he was aware of the need for "an intelligent opposition to the (NATO) alliance," and backed "all initiatives" that would push NATO back from "Eastern bastions." The same commentary was republished in Javan, a newspaper affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards.
Not surprisingly, part of Putin's aim in visiting Tehran was to drag the Iranian regime into his war, as Kayhan London has observed elsewhere. Khamenei's stated support for the war, and the Iranian media's support for his statements, may be a prelude to Tehran's next moves.
Eleven years ago, when a revolt erupted in Syria against the regime of President Bashar al-Asad, the Islamic Republic vehemently denied at first that it had sent troops to Syria to back Assad. The Revolutionary Guards chief Hussein Salami admitted several years later that Iran had sent "advisers," and by 2016, Khamenei was describing Syria as part of Iran's own "defensive depth."
The Iranian presence in Syria, he said, was to "strengthen our friends and...supporters. We must not act in such a way that the Islamic Republic's friends and devotees in the Middle East will be weakened." It was an argument to justify the deaths of thousands in Syria, and led to the regime sending in more troops, termed the "Defenders of the Shrine."
'Middle Eastern NATO'
Such actions also paved the way for the Abraham Accords the creation of a "Middle Eastern NATO," connecting Washington with Sunni-led regimes in the Gulf. Khamenei said in 2015 that if the Islamic Republic had not fought in Syria, it would have had to fight "the enemy... here in Kermanshah, Hamadan and other provinces, to stop them!" The enemy in this case was the Islamic State or ISIS, with its avowed hatred of Shia Muslims.
Similar arguments are being used now with Ukraine: It has become a "forward defensive" position for the Islamic Republic, and Putin is really fighting in defense of a front that includes Islamic Iran! For Khamenei's followers, Ukraine is the "Islamic Republic's strategic depth against NATO." Are they forgetting the other recent guest in Tehran: Recep Tayyip Erdogan, president of Turkey, a NATO member state?
There are no Shia shrines in Ukraine as far as anyone knows, but don't be surprised when the Tehran authorities bring out a theological justification provided by the "advisers" they may be persuaded to send there.