Vladimir Putin with Ali Khamenei

Iran-Russia Relations: Nuclear Potential in 2024?

by Matt Collins

International relations are rarely a "black-and-white" affair, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the nuanced and lengthy Iran-Russian relationship…

For its role as a power player in the Middle East—and for its fierce opposition to Western intervention in the area via IsraelRussia is eager to back Iran. Both have fervently declared their support for the militant organization Hamas.

And this most recent outbreak of conflict comes at an opportune time for Russia. Not only does it serve as a potent distraction from their ongoing and unsuccessful invasion of Ukraine, but it also has the potential to further destabilize the existing world order—putting some of Russia's most powerful enemies on the back foot.

At the same time, things are a little bit more complicated.

For example, just this week, Israeli counterattacks began targeting assets in Syria–arguably a client state of Russia. Israeli authorities formerly warned Russian leaders of strikes like these, making clear their intention to target and eradicate terrorist cells. But these most recent attacks came without warning.

Israeli air strikes hitting Syria unannounced

Israeli air strikes hit Syria unannounced. (Image courtesy of BBC)

So, once again, it's not strictly black and white. Russia wants to see conflict in the region. But is there a limit to what they'll tolerate?

And perhaps most importantly—could we see an escalation that ends with a Russia-Iran nuclear deal?

Table of Contents

  • 01

    500-Year Iran Russia Alliance

  • 02

    2024 Iran Threat Profile

  • 03

    2024 Russia Threat Profile

  • 04

    The Worst-Case Scenario

  • 05

    A New Axis of Power in the Middle East

  • 06

    Frequently Asked Questions About Iran-Russia Relations

500-Year Iran Russia Partnership

The Iran-Russia partnership dates back to the sixteenth century when the Russian Empire started developing relations with Persia.

By the nineteenth century, the two nations would find a common adversary in the British Empire. As a result, they formed a series of limited partnerships over the following decades as the two fought to limit Britain's influence in the region.

The era's back-and-forth diplomacy Treaty of Turkmenchay in 1828 delineated the border between the Russian and Persian territories and formalized substantial territorial losses for Iran.

Persia-Russia relations declined dramatically following the Russian Revolution of 1917. This is understandable, since the new Soviet government advocated for socialist revolutions abroad, challenging the existing monarchical order of Persia.

Like so many other countries at the time, Iran was wary of communist influence. Accordingly, they demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces from the region.

Russia ultimately responded by joining forces with the British to invade Iran during World War II. But eventually, following the war, Iran worked to reestablish relations with the Soviet Union.

During the decades of the Cold War, Iran maintained a policy of cautious cooperation with their Russian allies. And things only became more frigid after the 1953 coup that saw Soviet-backed Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh ousted from office.

Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh

Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. (Image courtesy of NPR)

The next few decades saw the transformative Iranian Revolution of 1979—which installed an Islamic theocracy that's lasted to this day—and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The resulting governments have arguably had the most amicable relationship of any Russia-Iran governments over the last century.

The Iran-Russia relationship can be loosely defined by the age-old axiom that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."

Both countries oppose the U.S. government's overwhelming influence in the Middle East, and they've cooperated on various issues, including energy agreements and military cooperation.

The relationship is further deepened because both countries are also "petrostates," with massive oil and gas reserves whose export powers a substantial portion of their economic activity. In this way, their cooperation isn't just political or ideological. It's also about real-world dollars and cents.

When Western sanctions first hit Iran's oil industry, Russia forged new energy and trade deals with their longtime partner. These deals were made on relatively favorable terms, to be sure, but they served to keep the exports flowing when Iran's government needed that most of all.

Another critical cornerstone of the modern Iran-Russia alliance is mutual support for Assad's regime in Syria. Both countries have provided military aid to Assad's government, seeing the country as a critical bulwark against expanding Western interests.

This brings us back to Israel's recent counterattacks into Syrian territory and the resulting headaches that will inevitably cause for Russian authorities.

Because while the Iran-Russia partnership is strong, it's not perfect. After all, the two countries checkered past of betrayal and mistrust, in spite of their shared interests. In this way, this profoundly complicated relationship has been prone to bouts of breakthrough cooperation and complete upheaval.

So, what real-world threat does each party pose to the current world order?

2024 Iran Threat Profile

Iran is one of the world's most prominent threats when it comes to damaging Western interests and promoting terrorist activity abroad.

A great deal of the historical animosity can be traced back to that same Iranian coup in 1953.

Iran's government at the time noticed that a substantial amount of the country's oil profits were being shipped to partners overseas. So, they decided to reevaluate their country's oil industry, nationalizing it to keep more money at home.

It is a reasonable choice, to be sure. And a choice that prompted British and American authorities to overthrow Iran's government (not out of spite over lost profits, but because they were worried about communist influence–of course).

The resulting CIA operation was codenamed "Operation Ajax" and masterminded by Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. (grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt). The CIA worked with Iranian gangsters and fielded fake protests, undermining Mossadegh's authority and forcing him to step down—all while the queen was on vacation.

Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. (grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt)

This guy named Kermit overthrew Iran’s government. (Image courtesy of IMDB)

Operation Ajax became the textbook example of a perfect CIA coup and left Iran embittered for generations to come. Decades later, the 1979 Islamic Revolution saw the establishment of sharia law in the country, making them not only historically but culturally and religiously opposed to Western influence.

Iran has consistently sought to extend its influence in the region. The country is known for its bold and continued support of known militant groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, along with various Shia militias in Iraq and Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Iran's support for these groups isn't limited to words of encouragement, either. They're known to provide weapons, funding, training, and critical access to various proxy groups that can help advance its strategic interests in the region or serve as a distraction/threat to Western and Israeli interests.

Naturally, the expansion of these proxies/allies causes serious concern among Western nations. All too often, after all, we've seen what just a handful of terrorists can do with a planned attack. And Iran is helping to fund and enable entire armies of extremists.

Some of these groups have already directly clashed with Western forces in Iraq and Syria, while others have indirectly undermined Western authority and stoked ongoing conflicts in an unstable region.

But Iran's most significant potential threat is its ongoing nuclear program.

Iran claims that this program is strictly designed for peaceful purposes like building nuclear power plants. At the same time, Iran's past leaders have frequently talked about "wiping Israel off the map." So, the devastating potential of an Iranian nuclear arsenal is something that can't be ignored.

Once again, though, it's not just about Iran. It's also about all of Iran's allies and proxy groups—including some of the world's most notorious non-state terrorist organizations. If Iran were to develop the facilities for nuclear weapons, then they may as well be pipelined straight to militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah–a severe threat to global stability, no doubt.

The Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was a bold new plan to stall Iran's nuclear development by trading off substantial relief from existing sanctions. However, the U.S. government withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement in 2018.

Iran's actions and rhetoric against Western democracies' sanctions defiance and its assertive regional policies have also raised concerns about the broader security landscape in the Middle East, affecting Western strategic interests and regional stability.

2024 Russia Threat Profile

We've written quite a few updates on Russia since their surprise invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Significantly, this incursion has been met with surprising resistance and accomplished little in the way of meaningful progress.

According to a recent article from The New York Times, casualties on both sides of the Ukraine war recently topped 500,000, with an estimated 70,000 dead Russian soldiers and upwards of 120,000 injured. Armor losses have likewise been massive, with as many as fifty-five tanks lost in a single day while attempting to capture Avdiika a few weeks ago.

One Ukrainian anti-tank unit in particular estimated that the handful of soldiers in their unit had destroyed $20 million in Russian tanks all on their own.

Overturned tank in snow

(Image courtesy of CSIS)

So, things might not look great for Russia's invasion after eighteen months, but the country remains one of the world's most significant military and nuclear powers. It's still possible for them to turn things around and win the war, even after losing a few battles.

But it's safe to say that Russia's military is fully committed to the invasion.

And while Russian authorities are indirectly connected to the current war in Gaza via their involvement in Syria, there's been no direct or material support for the attacks from Russia. Even if the conflict comes along at an opportune time for Russia, Putin has been unequivocal in his condemnation of the violence and his continued support of the Palestinian cause.

So, what is the chance of Russian nuclear weapons ever making their way into Iranian hands or through Iran to any number of terrorist organizations? That's highly, highly unlikely–likewise for other CBRN threats and weapons of mass destruction.

Remember that even the most cutting-edge nuclear weapons are still made with fissile materials that can be traced back to their source after the blast. As such, whoever manufactured the weapon would still have their fingerprints all over it and would instantly become a pariah in the global community.

It's worth noting that an actual or staged terrorist nuclear attack is one of the few scenarios that wouldn't trigger a potential cascade of escalating attacks. But that doesn't change the fact that it's simply not in Russia's interest to risk their own international reputation to share nuclear weapons with their erstwhile partners in Iran.

The Worst-Case Scenario

In Tom Clancy's The Sum of All Fears, a terrorist group discovers an American nuclear weapon dropped by a crashing Israeli fighter pilot during the Six-Day War.

Since the resulting weapon is made using fissile material mined in the United States, it couldn't be tracked back to its foreign creators (at least not directly, unless you're Jack Ryan).

This is purely a literary hypothetical, but also a real-world worst-case scenario. If the Russians could recover a foreign nuclear weapon or fissile material, that material could be passed through Iran to terrorist groups that could then deploy a weapon in Israel, Europe, or the United States without so much as a second thought.

All of this is extremely unlikely, but radioactive material can even be harvested from retired medical equipment—yielding a nearly untraceable "dirty bomb" that could be deployed anywhere by Hezbollah, Hamas, or another group. Like so many terrorist attacks, this kind of threat would strike without warning or precedent.

As such, we strongly recommend keeping a dosimeter on hand for everyday radiation monitoring. The Geiger-2 is a next-gen, rechargeable dosimeter that uses the same Geiger Muller tube as most military Geiger counters.


The Geiger-2 is sensitive enough to detect even minuscule amounts of background radiation, and it's customizable, so you can set exposure alarms and measure long-term exposure, all with the press of a button. After a nuclear attack, a dosimeter can help you steer clear of hot spots and mitigate potentially lethal radioactive exposure.

You'll also need full-body protection. And for that, we recommend the MIRA Safety MOPP Suit.

MOPP suit

This is a next-gen, reusable hazmat suit you won't find anywhere else. It uses the same semi-permeable technology as cutting-edge military MOPP suits, allowing the suit to "breathe" and minimizing the risk of fatigue and overheating in the field. As a result, you'll be more agile and flexible and have more options when making your way to safety.

Finally, the easiest step you can take to prepare for a potential nuclear attack—potassium iodide tablets.

potassium iodide tablets

These tablets serve a straightforward purpose. They flood your system with safe iodine, which prevents your thyroid gland from absorbing any of the radioactive iodine-131 isotopes released in the event of a nuclear meltdown or explosion. Concentrated I-131 exposure can lead to high rates of thyroid cancer, but by following the dosing instructions on these tablets, you can avoid that beforehand.

Of course, if you're looking for a respirator, you should complete your next-gen kit with the new CM-8M gas mask, the latest evolution of MIRA Safety design and the best of both worlds between its predecessors, the CM-6M and CM-7M.

the CM-8M

The CM-8M gives you an ultra-wide panoramic field of view while preserving compatibility with rifle scopes and popular optics systems. Building on years of expertise and development, the CM-8M is as sophisticated as any gas mask in the field today.

A New Axis of Power in the Middle East

2024 will likely see a new level of Iran-Russia cooperation and coordination.

Indeed, it's already happening now, with a steady stream of new agreements, partnerships, and press reports from Iran, Russia, and China. In terms of the latest Russia-Iran news, Western sanctions against Russia strengthen the country's incentives to work more closely with allies like Iran, so the current attacks against Syria will likely be overlooked.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi shaking hands

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. ( Foreign Policy)

And over the long term, with the indisputable rise of China's economy and growing power in the Middle East, Russia-Iran relations will likely remain extremely strong. It's just a matter of political expediency.

But at the same time, Iran's involvement with known terrorist groups can't be ignored or overlooked. Because any one of these groups could unleash the next major terrorist attack—whether it's nuclear or not.

Frequently Asked Questions About Iran-Russia Relations

Are Russia and Iran allies?
Why is Iran helping Russia?
Was Russia responsible for the attacks on Israel?