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Iran Backs Putin as Conservatives Blame Wagner Revolt on West


The story: Iran has expressed backing for the Russian government amid the armed rebellion by the Wagner private military company. The revolt ended after Belarusia’s president brokered a deal to stop Wagner’s advance on Moscow. In Iran, conservative media have accused the west of orchestrating the rebellion. Meanwhile, some moderate Iranian politicians have warned of claimed dangers at home, pointing to hardliners.

The coverage: Iran’s first official reaction came hours after Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin pledged to topple Russia’s military leadership on June 24.

  • Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani stated that the Islamic Republic “supports the rule of law in the Russian Federation.” Notably, his statement did not mention President Vladimir Putin.
  • Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian echoed the same sentiment about the necessity of rule of law. In a call with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, he also expressed hope that “Russia will overcome this phase.”

The first Iranian outlet to react to the rebellion was Nour News, the media affiliate of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC).

  • In a tweet on June 24, the outlet conceded that the rebellion “may be “psychologically damaging.” Yet it insisted that Wagner “lacks the necessary strength to challenge the Russian army.”
  • Nour News separately alleged that Russia was the victim of a western “hybrid warfare” due to how western media covered the rebellion. It also suggested that the west is allegedly using Wagner to “weaken national unity and bring Moscow to its knees” in the Ukraine war.

News agencies close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) offered similar assessments on June 23.

  • Tasnim News Agency alleged that NATO had orchestrated the rebellion to make up for “Ukraine’s failed counter-offensive” against Russian forces.
  • Hardline news agency Fars criticized Iranian pro-reform media’s prominent coverage of the developments in Russia and accused it of favoring Wagner.

Iranian pundits also weighed in on Wagner’s rebellion and what it could mean for Putin.

  • Reformist political analyst Ahmad Zeidabadi said the Russian president ultimately paid the price of “relying on mercenaries.” He added that the unsuccessful rebellion will likely weaken Russia’s military positions in Ukraine. Of further note, Zeidabadi speculated that Putin may be able to use Wagner’s “betrayal” to justify making peace with Ukraine.
  • Nematollah Izadi, Iran’s last ambassador to the Soviet Union, stated that the rebellion may give Ukraine the upper hand in the war. Izadi argued that it was “very likely” that Putin may have to exaggerate his achievements to the Russian public to end the invasion of Ukraine.

Abbas Salehi, a minister of culture and Islamic guidance under moderate ex-president Hassan Rouhani (2013-21), seemingly drew on Wagner’s rebellion to sound the alarm about potential dangers at home.

  • Taking to Twitter, Salehi wrote, “The outlaw ‘fire at will’ crowd will one day draw their weapons on the internal front…today, Wagner is an example. Will we learn a lesson?!”
  • The term ‘fire at will’ stems from a 2017 speech by Iran’s supreme leader that was widely viewed as directed at the Rouhani administration. At the time, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei exhorted his supporters to “fire at will,” though he later stated that the term referred to “spontaneous and upstanding cultural work.”

The context/analysis: Prigozhin started his rebellion in the late hours of June 23. The move followed months of rising acrimony towards the Russian top military brass, accusing it of corruption and mismanagement.

  • On June 24, Putin announced that the Wagner group’s actions amounted to “treason” and vowed “severe” punishment.
  • The armed rebellion ended after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko negotiated a deal that resulted in charges against Prigozhin being dropped and the Wagner chief moved to Belarus.
  • The details of the deal are unclear, but Lukashenko’s office said the deal “is absolutely profitable and acceptable.”

Putin is now seen by some in the west to be in a weaker position because of the rebellion and how it ended.

  • Iran has explicitly expressed its backing for the Russian government. However, its public support for Moscow amid the Wagner revolt has not been as staunch as it was for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the attempted 2016 military coup in Turkey.
  • During the 2016 putsch in neighboring Turkey, Iran’s then-foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (2013-21) condemned the coup attempt and hailed the “Turkish people’s brave defense of democracy.”
  • Beyond Zarif, the SNSC secretary at the time—Ali Shamkhani (2013-23)— denounced the “instability” caused by the coup attempt in Turkey.

The future: Iran’s government and state media have expressed support for Putin at a time when other partners of Russia, including China, have remained relatively silent.

  • Relations between Iran and Russia have expanded in past years, but the trend significantly accelerated after Moscow was hit with western sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine.
  • Iran may be betting that its unwavering friendship amid the Wagner crisis will not go unnoticed in the Kremlin. This is especially since Tehran hopes to acquire military hardware from Russia.
  • If the rebellion has weakened Putin’s position, Iran may consider leveraging its support for him for its own advantage.

Source: Amwaj Media

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