Russia has condemned the U.S. strike that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani while offering condolences to Iran in a move that’s sure to heighten animosity between Washington and Moscow.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke over the phone on Friday about the situation in Iraq after the strike in Baghdad that killed Soleimani, who headed the powerful Quds Force and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—a designated foreign terrorist organization.
In a readout of their phone call, the “two presidents first reviewed the situation in Iraq” and both agreed to stay in close contact “for the next few days to avoid another dangerous escalation of tensions and to call on all parties to hold back.” According to the Kremlin, the call was initiated by Macron.
“This action can seriously aggravate the situation in the region,” Putin was quoted as saying to Macron, reported the AFP news agency.
At the same time, Russia’s Foreign Ministry told RIA that the killing of Soleimani could increase tensions in the region.
“We consider the killing of Soleimani as the result of an American missile strike in the vicinity of Baghdad to be a bold step that will lead to increased tension throughout the region. Soleimani was devoted to protecting Iran’s national interests,” RIA, a state-run news outlet, quoted the Foreign Ministry as saying.
“Such actions do not create … find solutions to complex problems in the Middle East. On the contrary, it will lead to a new round of escalation of tensions in the region,” added Russia’s Foreign Ministry in a statement on its website, according to VOA. The ministry also noted that Soleimani “faithfully served and defended the national interests of Iran” and offered condolences to the Iranian people after his death.
The reaction highlights Iran’s and Russia’s close relationship after the two nations forged ever more ties in its four-year military alliance in Syria, where Moscow and Tehran have come to the aid of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.
Reuters reported that Soleimani had met with Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Moscow in 2016, but Russian and Iranian officials denied that the meeting ever took place. Soleimani was placed on an international travel ban list.
In May of last year, Kathryn Wheelbarger, the acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, warned that Iran and Russia were both attempting to gain more influence over the Middle East that will adversely affect U.S. interests in the region.
“Even understanding historical mistrust between Moscow and Tehran, the United States and the region must be mindful when revisionist powers cooperate,” Wheelbarger said, according to Foreign Policy. “We are watching this relationship closely.”
As noted by VOA, Russia was also at odds with the Trump administration’s abandonment of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement. In the meantime, Moscow was working with Germany and France to get around U.S. sanctions.
“The last hopes for resolving the problem of the Iran nuclear program have been bombed to shreds,” said Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Russia’s upper chamber, in a statement. “Iran can now push forward its nuclear program, even if it wasn’t planning to,” added Kosachev.