Sanctions on Iranian Oil Buyers Aids Putin’s Power Play in the Middle East

US President Donald Trump has recently announced the termination of sanctions waivers granted since November for eight major importers of Iranian crude oil as of 2 May, a move that is likely to benefit Russia.

By Sohaila Barghash

If Trump is to succeed, this economic blow to Iran will ease Russia’s efforts to reduce Iranian influence in Syria, and in turn serve President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to extend Russian influence in the Middle East.

Tehran and Moscow were once collaborators in the region, however, as the two main power brokers in Syria, the two countries have often been at odds ever since the civil war broke out 8 years ago.

In recent months, Russian and Iranian forces have engaged in deadly clashes, which has further deteriorated their relationship.

Yury Barmin, a Middle East expert at the Moscow Policy Group research organization stated that countering Iran will be easier after Trump removes sanction waivers that allowed it to sell oil to several countries, as the country “will be a lot more squeezed”.

Removing Iran from the international oil market will also benefit Russia’s economy.

For instance, according to Dmitry Marincheko, oil and gas director at Fitch Ratings, it will be free to resume pumping at full capacity when output curbs agreed with OPEC expire in June, which will earn Russia about an extra $6 billion a year, at current prices.

As relations with Iran deteriorated, Russia invested in unprecedented cooperation with its chief rival, Saudi Arabia, even though Moscow and Riyadh have backed opposing sides in Syria, they established a joint agreement with OPEC on limiting oil production, which helped stabilize prices.

Nikolay Kozhanov, a Middle East expert at the European University at St. Petersburg, who served as a Russian diplomat in Tehran from 2006-2009 stated that “Although Russia and Iran are both interested in ensuring the survival of Assad, they have completely different strategic goals and priorities.”

Russian troops have been trying to gradually push the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite militia, Hezbollah, out of Syria, leading to severe clashes between pro-Iranian and pro-Russian detachments.

Putin has been seeking to persuade several Arab nations to drop their hostility to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and reintegrate the nation into the Arab League.

Which was accepted by some as the presence of Iranian forces in Syria makes that more palatable to Sunni Gulf states that see Shiite Iran as their primary rival, said Barmin of Moscow Policy Group.

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