Is there an alliance between Russia, China, and Iran?

I just published this video about the relationship between Russia, China, and Iran. The topic came up again this week, when many people started speculating that maybe Russia was behind the Iranian air strikes on Israel. I think many people get this relationship upside down, and that in reality it is rather Iran using the Russians to wage a proxy war in Europe. So I wanted to make a video where I clarified some things about how this relationship works.

I have received a request to include a transcript of the video in these emails, so that is inserted below, and if you prefer to consume the video as a blog post, you can do that.


Recently, there has been a lot of talk about how Russia, China, and Iran are working together to destabilize the world and create all sorts of problems for the West. And some people have even started to use phrases like "a new axis of evil" and things like that. And it is, of course, true that these countries have some common interests and that they're working together. But I also think that there are some things about the relationship between them that is often misunderstood. So, in this video, I want to talk about that relationship between Russia, China, and Iran, and how I think it's useful to understand it. So, let's talk about it.

The first thing to understand about the relationship between Russia, China, and Iran is that they don't have an alliance. They have some common interests. There are ways in which they find it beneficial to help each other and to work together. But in general, it's not like they have any particular affection for each other. They do not share a common ideology. They don't care very much about whether the others achieve their goals. So, for example, the Chinese or the Iranians, they don't really care whether Russia wins the war in Ukraine or not. They don't have any particular views on whether or not Ukraine should be an independent nation. And likewise, the Russians, they also don't really care about whether Taiwan is a part of China or not. It's just not an important issue for them. And the Russians really don't care about that Shia Islamic project that the Iranians have going on.

So, when they work together, it's because they have some common interests. And sometimes it's a trade relationship where both sides will benefit. The Iranians will give some drone technology to Russia in exchange for fighter jets, for example, or the Chinese will help Russia get access to technology in exchange for cheap gas or something like that. But at other times, it doesn't quite look that kind of trade relationship. So, then we see these countries supporting each other without immediately getting anything in return. But in those cases, it's because it serves their own foreign policy interests.

And that is when we get to the essence of what this relationship between Russia, China, and Iran is all about. Because even though these countries are very different and they want very different things, what ties them together is that they're all in opposition to the United States and the collective West. And they all want to see a new world order where the United States has less influence and where other strong countries like themselves will have more freedom to do whatever they want.

So, it is essentially a destructive project that unites these countries. Because what they can agree about is that they want to create all kinds of problems for the United States and for the Western countries because over time, that will create overstretch and it will make it impossible for the West to uphold that thing that we like to call the rules-based international world order. These countries need each other to do that. Because if you're Iran or you're Russia and you're alone in challenging the United States, then your chances of success are very small. But if you have other countries that are also making trouble for the Americans, then your chances are better. Because the Americans won't have so many resources then to allocate to your specific part of the world. So, relatively speaking, you have to make less trouble to achieve the same goals.

One of the questions that I get a lot is, what are China's interests about Ukraine? And as I said before, really the Chinese don't care. It's not particularly important for them who this territory belongs to or whether Russia achieves their goals or not. What they care about is that Russia is creating problems for the United States and for the European countries. And they find it useful that Russia is undermining some of those basic principles about how the international system works. And as long as Russia is doing that, then it's good for China.

And it's the same for Iran. I've seen quite a lot of people implying that maybe Russia is actually behind the trouble that Iran is making in the Middle East because it's diverting attention from Ukraine. But I think that's actually getting things upside down. Iran and Russia are much more equal than many people think. It's not a kind of relationship where Russia can really dictate to Iran what they want them to do. Iran is a big country. They have their own independent foreign policy. And what we're seeing is not so much that Russia is using Iran to make trouble, but rather that the way I see it, that the Iranians are using the Russians. Iran is actively supporting Russia in the war in Ukraine because it is beneficial for Iran that there is a war going on in Europe. So in that sense, we might say that the Iranians are, to some extent, treating Russia kind of the same way they're treating Hezbollah or Hamas or the Houthis, that it's a kind of proxy force that they can use to create trouble.

So that is how the relationship works between these countries, Russia, China, Iran. We can include other countries like North Korea and other countries like that. They have this common interest in challenging the US-led world order. And they would like to see a world where autocracies have more power. But aside from that, they don't really have all that much in common. And that, of course, also means that there are plenty of things that these countries could also disagree about. And I think there are many potential conflicts between them that I think we are going to see break out over time. And maybe there are also some opportunities for the West to exploit here if the United States or the Europeans can sort of get a wedge in between these countries. So it's absolutely wrong to understand the relationship between these countries as an alliance or that they share some kind of fundamental ideology. But for the time being, they are united in this goal of challenging the West and essentially creating trouble.

And that also leads to one final point that I want to include about the war in Ukraine. Because even though I say that Iran and China essentially deep down really don't care about whether or not Russia wins the war, I think it's important that we understand that they absolutely do care about maintaining Russia as an important player in international politics. Because if they want to achieve their own foreign policy goals, then they need Russia to be there.

They will need Russia to be a great power that can challenge the West on the European stage. And also, they need Russia to be a country with a vote in the UN Security Council. So the way I would frame it in terms of an endgame of the war in Ukraine is that I would say that China and Iran, they don't really care about whether or not Russia wins the war. But it is important for them that Russia doesn't lose the war too much. It would be absolutely devastating for Iran and China and for their long-term foreign policy goals if Russia were to lose so much that it would take decades to rebuild their strength. And if the war even ends in such a way that Putin loses power, then that can also potentially lead to them losing this special working relationship that they currently have with Russia. So I think we should expect China and Iran to do what they can to help Russia to make sure that they can do at least okay in the war. Because they don't want Russia to suffer a devastating defeat. But they don't really care about whether Russia actually wins though.

Okay, I will end it here. If you found the video helpful or informative, then please give it a like and also remember you can subscribe to the channel and click the bell icon so you will get notifications when I upload new videos. Thank you very much for watching and I will see you again next time.