Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has expressed strong support for Ukraine, calling Russia’s Vladimir Putin a tyrannical narcissist pursuing glory.

The populist politician has written a letter to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky saying that the attack on his country unveils the brutal and anti-human face of people like Putin who symbolize concentration of power and wealth, pursuing self-glory with a spirit of narcissism and tyranny.

Ahmadinejad’s stance is in diametrical opposition to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his loyal supporters, as well as the official position of the government that calls Russia a strategic and close ally of the Islamic Republic.

During Putin’s recent visit to Tehran, Khamenei praised the Russian ruler’s “initiative” to attack Ukraine, saying that if he had not taken the “pre-emptive” strike, NATO was planning its own war in Ukraine.

Ahmadinejad has frequently criticized official policies and prevailing conditions in Iran since 2017, when he was barred from running for president. It remains a mystery as to how he has been able to raise bruising criticisms, at least once directly against Khamenei, without being punished.

Some analysts say that his popularity among some hardliners and ordinary people has convinced the regime not to arrest him, although others in his position have been persecuted without mercy.

Nevertheless, Ahmadinejad covered his tracks in the letter to an extent by also accusing the United States of seeking to maintain its primacy in the world by making some concessions to China and Russia, “in a new, tri-polar world order.”

While Iran’s hardliners say that a victory for Ukraine would be a win for the West and must be prevented, Ahmadinejad praised “the fortunate resistance of the people of Ukraine” that has garnered “the obvious support of various nations, freedom lovers and justice seekers of the world.” He expressed his satisfaction with widespread condemnation of Russia’s “violation of an independent country.”

Ahmadinejad accused China and Russia of seeking to be world powers and see the attack on Ukraine “as an opening of the path for the realization of their future plans.” He equated the attack on Ukraine and a possible invasion of Taiwan to “America’s domination over Iran.”

Ahmadinejad wrote to Zelensky, “I invite your excellency as a freedom-seeker and all free-spirited people to join the rest of humanity to establish that beautiful and lovable human world.”

Meanwhile, the government and Khamenei loyalists are presenting the deepening ties with Moscow as a master accomplishment. The government news website IRNA on Sunday published an article that Iran can become a conduit in marketing Russia’s natural gas in the Middle East. The article failed to mention that it would take years to build pipelines to bring Russia’s gas from western or eastern Siberia to Iran.

The United States warned in July that Iran might sell military drones to Russia for deployment in Ukraine, as Moscow has failed to establish an air superiority in the conflict.

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