Russia And Iran: A Joint Shield Against Western Sanctions

A five-year economic agreement in the works between Russia and Iran signals efforts by both countries to protect themselves from global isolation. Of course, it's mostly about oil.

Presidents Rouhani and Putin
Yuri Barsukov, Kirill Melnikov, Egor Polov and Elena Chernenko

MOSCOW — Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak announced last week that he and Iran's oil minister have signed a memo of understanding and are hammering out a five-year, multi-billion-dollar trade deal between Tehran and Moscow.

The agreement includes expansion of cooperation and business in construction, electrical infrastructure, as well as the delivery of cars and equipment and goods for everyday use, the Russian Ministry of Energy's spokesperson said.

The agency said that the specific contracts would be officially negotiated between the two countries in September.

Russian government sources say President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani discussed an economic partnership during their first meeting last September in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The two presidents then ironed out the details during a meeting in China last May.

Above all, the agreement is about oil, though it also proposes growing the economic partnership in a number of other areas. The first draft of the document suggested that Russia would buy 25 million tons of Iranian oil per year, about one-fourth of total Iranian production. The final version lowered that sum to a maximum of three million tons per year, which would be purchased by government-controlled traders created specifically for this purpose.

The arrangement is an effort to minimize the effects of possible sanctions by the West. Iran will sell oil to Russian companies and will use the money to buy Russian goods. Sources say Iran has also agreed to sell the oil at a small discount from market prices.

The most important obstacle to an oil partnership between Iran and Russia is delivery. In light of the oil embargo on Iran, the two countries must first make sure it's possible and, if so, determine whether it is economically viable. At one time, delivery to Belarus or Ukraine, where Russian companies already have refineries, was considered a possibility, but that idea has since been abandoned because of the obvious political conflict.

In addition to crude oil, Iran would also provide Russia with cement, carpets and agricultural products, says Levan Dzhagaryan, Russia's ambassador in Tehran. Meanwhile, Iran is interested in purchasing Russian machinery, metals, trucks and grains.

A file photo of Iran's Abadan refinery — Wikimedia Commons

According to Mehdi Sanai, the Iranian ambassador in Moscow, part of the proceeds from oil sales to Russia would be used to hire Russian companies to build a second nuclear energy plant. Iran also hopes that Russian companies could help electrify Iran's railroads and reconstruct electrical stations and infrastructure. Iran is also considering buying electrical energy from Russia. In addition, the ambassador says Iran would welcome a joint project to establish a small oil refinery on Iranian territory.

Washington’s response

The United States has tried to prevent this deal, threatening both Russian and Iranian companies with sanctions, say Russian government sources. Washington insists that a stronger economic relationship between Moscow and Tehran would undermine its sanctions against Iran and would violate the temporary agreement on Iran's nuclear program (Under which U.S. sanctions against Iran have been weakened but not removed.)

Russian officials believe President Barack Obama's administration is worried that income from trade with Russia would weaken Iran's interest in a long-term compromise. U.S. embassy officials were not available for comment.

Experts say the agreement has been signed now primarily because of Russia's increasingly deteriorating relationship with the West.

"Moscow invested a lot of effort in the diplomatic resolution of Iran's nuclear issue, and it was willing to refrain from doing anything that would have caused a negative reaction from the U.S.," says Andrei Baklitski, an expert at the Russian Center for Policy Studies (PIR).

"Now Russia is less willing to listen to U.S. recommendations, and Iran — whose importance for the West has increased immensely, both in relation to the situation in Iraq and in the search for an alternative to Russian fossil fuels — has more room to maneuver," he continues. "In addition, in the past Moscow had to weigh a potential deal with Iran against the possibility of sanctions from the U.S. for violating Iran's oil embargo. But now that there are sanctions anyway, that factor is less important.”

Moscow’s eagerness to work with Iran is also explained by the fight for the Iranian marketplace. Since the end of last year, when the process for ending sanctions against Iran began, business delegations from China and a whole list of European countries have appeared in Tehran.

Reuters and The Wall Street Journal reported recently that German businesses were considering moving away from the Russian market to focus on Iran instead, a reaction to the situation in Ukraine. The German Chamber of Commerce predicts that once the sanctions are relaxed further, the annual export market from Germany to Iran will be worth 10 billion euros.

As one German business executive puts it, “As soon as the sanctions against Iran are lifted, the market with explode.”

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Thousands of Tunisians gathered in the capital of Tunis

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Laphi!*

Welcome to Monday, where post-Merkel Germany looks set shift to a center-left coalition, San Marino and Switzerland catch up with the rest of Europe on two key social issues, and a turtle slows things down at a Japan airport. Meanwhile, we take an international look at different ways to handle beloved, yet controversial, comic books and graphic novels characters.

[*Aymara, Bolivia]


Social Democrats narrowly win German elections: Germany's center-left party claimed a narrow victory in the federal election, beating the CDU party of outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel by just over 1.5%, according to preliminary results. SPD leader Olaf Scholz has claimed a mandate to form a government with the Greens and Liberals, in what would be Germany's first three-way ruling coalition. Germany's capital city Berlin will also get its first female mayor.

Switzerland says yes to same-sex marriage: Nearly two-thirds of Swiss voters approved the proposal to legalize same-sex marriage in a referendum, making it one of the last countries in Western Europe to do so.

San Marino voters back legal abortion: More than 77% voted in support of legalizing abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy in San Marino in a historic referendum for the predominantly Catholic tiny city-state, which was one of the last places in Europe that still criminalized abortion.

COVID update: Australian authorities announced they will gradually reopen lockdowned Sydney, with a system that will give vaccinated citizens more freedom than the unvaccinated. Meanwhile, Thailand will waive its mandatory quarantine requirement in Bangkok and several other regions for vaccinated travellers in November. In Brazil, a fourth member of President Jair Bolsonaro's delegation to the United Nations has tested positive to COVID-19.

Power shortages in China spread: Tight coal supplies and toughening emissions standards have led to power shortages in northeastern China, forcing numerous factories including many supplying Apple and Tesla to halt production.

Strong earthquake hits Crete, at least one killed: An earthquake of magnitude 6 struck the Greek island of Crete, with reports that at least one person was killed and several injured after buildings collapsed.

Turtle causes delays at Tokyo airport: A wandering turtle forced the Tokyo Narita airport to close its runway for twelve minutes, delaying five planes, including an All Nippon Airways plane featuring ... a sea turtle-themed fuselage.


"Neck and neck," titles German daily Augsburger Allgemeine about the tight results of the federal election, which according to preliminary results, is set to be won by the center-left party SPD led by Olaf Sholz by just over 1.5%. It was the country's tightest race in years, and will likely lead to long, complicated negotiations to form a coalition government.



On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims from Senegal, but also from elsewhere in Africa, Europe, and the United States, converged to the great Mosque of Touba, as part of the Grand Magal. The annual pilgrimage, a Wolof word meaning celebration, marks the date French colonial authorities exiled spiritual leader and founder of the Senegalese Mouride Brotherhood Sheikh Amadou Bamba.


Cancel Tintin? Spotting racist imagery in comics around the world

From the anti-Semitic children's books of Nazi Germany to the many racist caricatures of Asian, African or Indigenous people in the 20th century, comics have long contained prejudiced, sexist and xenophobic stereotypes. These publications have been rightfully criticized but some are pushing back, saying that this kind of unwarranted "canceling" threatens freedom of expression. Here are examples from three countries around the world about how people are handling the debate and sketching the future of comics.

🔥📚 The Adventures of Tintin and The Adventures of Asterix both emerged in French-speaking Europe during the 20th century and quickly developed global audiences. But the comic books have also been called out for controversial depictions of certain groups, including North American Indigenous peoples. And as Radio-Canada recently reported, one group of French-speaking schools in Ontario found the texts so offensive that they decided to go ahead and burn the books. The report, not surprisingly, stirred up a pretty fiery debate on the issues of free speech and what some refer to as "cancel culture."

🤠 In a more progressive model for rethinking cartoons with long — and complicated — legacies, Lucky Luke in France is taking a different direction. Telling the story of a cowboy in the Wild West, the series is notably lacking in terms of diversity. But in 2020, well-known French cartoonists Julien Berjeaut (known as Jul) and Hervé Darmenton (known as Achdé) took on the challenge of a more inclusive Lucky Luke. With its 81st album, Un Cow-Boy Dans Le Coton (A Cowboy in High Cotton), they changed the perspective to focus on recently freed Black slaves.

🇯🇵 Outside of France and Belgium, Japan arguably has the largest market for graphic novels, or manga, which first developed in the late 19th century. And like their European counterparts, certain manga titles have been accused of using racist tropes. One example is the character Mr. Popo, a genie from the popular Dragon Ball series who has been cited for having offensive features. In the meantime, more and more mangaka (creators of manga) are expanding beyond these traditional representations, including in their depictions of women, who are over-sexualized in many mangas.

➡️


"Still now, I am terrified."

— In mid-August, Afghan news anchor Beheshta Arghand interviewed Mawlawi Abdulhaq Hemad, a high-ranking Taliban representative, for TOLOnews. A historic moment for the female presenter, just days after the Islamic fundamentalist group took over Afghanistan. Now exiled in Albania, Arghand tells the BBC in a moving testimony why she had to flee to Albania and how she, like many in her country, has lost everything.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin, Clémence Guimier & Bertrand Hauger

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