Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s upcoming January visit to Russia is perceived both as an opportunity and as a moment of sober calculations in Tehran.

A January 4 report the Iranian Labor News Agency ILNA said that the two countries will discuss an agreement in defense, which includes purchasing tens of military aircraft for Iran. Iranian pilots have been undergoing training to fly Sukhoi jets, ILNA reported. According to ILNA, Iran might also try to purchase the Russian S-400 air defense systems.

Russia, a participant in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPAO), and a key player in the current Vienna negotiations to restore the agreement is seen as the Islamic Republic’s diplomatic backer. However, some Iranian media and social media users have harshly criticized Russian envoy Mikhail Ulyanov's accentuated role in the talks saying that he has sometimes behaved in a way as if he was speaking for Iran. Others have accused him of dictating his ideas to the Iranian team.

Meanwhile, a video of Iran's chief negotiator Ali Bagheri-Kani speaking after a meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in Moscow has gone viral on social media. In the video, Bagheri tells Ulyanov: "We are seriously counting on you.” Also, going viral on social media is a photo showing Ulyanov in a meeting with US Special Representative for Iran Robert Malley, as if the two world powers are deciding the fate of the talks.

The Iranian opposition sees Raisi's trip as part of the Islamic Republic's determined policy to rely on Russia and China to avoid better relations with the West, to the detriment of Iran's national interests.

In a commentary on the moderate news website Rouydad24, Seyyed Mahmoud Sadri, a former Iranian ambassador to Cuba, wrote, "Raisi's visit to Moscow is a significant event, however, he should be aware that this is a complicated political move. Both sides at this meeting should try to win the other side's confidence and provide a baseline for solid relations in the future."

"What makes this visit important is Russia's geopolitical situation and its industrial and military potentials as well as its membership at the UN Security Council," Sadri said, mindless of the fact that in early 2010s Russia at times voted against Iran at the Security Council.

However, Sadri noted that Iran should also remember some bitter episodes between Tehran and Moscow including broken promises and quite a few wars in the past two centuries. However, he did not elaborate on Moscow's broken promises. But he pointed out that both under Communism and in the post-Communist period, Russia has benefitted from Iran much in the relationship. As an example, he mentioned the way Russia has benefitted from Iran's military support in Syria while it has given more concessions to Turkey and Israel.

Sadri warned that Iran's "Looking East" policy cannot serve the country's national interests without trying to reduce tensions with the West at the same time. Also, Iran should be aware that ties with the West are always important for Moscow.

Last Autumn, the Chief of Staff of the Iranian armed forces Mohammad Bagheri claimed that Iran has received advanced military equipment from Russia, but although Iran is keen to display its military capabilities, nothing in this regard has been showcased so far.

Bagheri has said, "Ties between Tehran and Moscow are strong enough, but the two sides are still far from building a military bloc."

Iran expects to get 59 Sukhoi and other military aircraft from Russia as well as overhauling its old MIG and Sukhoi jets. However, these might be more feasible than Iran's demand for the S-400 system which Russia has agreed with Israel not to sell to "untrustworthy" countries.

On the other hand, even if Iran prioritizes its military needs over improving its citizens' livelihood, it might not be able to pay for what it wishes to purchase from Russia as a result of US sanctions on its international banking.

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