(CNSNews.com) – NATO is a “dangerous entity” which, if allowed, would continue to expand with no limits, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.
“The West is totally opposed to a strong, independent Russia,” Khamenei said. If Russia hadn’t stopped NATO in Ukraine, then the transatlantic alliance “would have launched the same war sometime later, under the pretext of Crimea.”
The supreme leader’s backing of the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine came during a visit by Putin, his fourth to Tehran in the last seven years, although just the second time he has traveled outside of Russia since launching the invasion last February.
The U.S. has led a campaign of sweeping punitive actions in response to the invasion, but the crisis has seen other regimes targeted by Western-led sanctions, like those ruling Iran, China, Syria, and Venezuela, to rally around Moscow, portraying NATO and especially the U.S. as the main threat to regional and global peace.
“Ongoing world events show the necessity of stepping up bilateral cooperation between Iran and Russia,” Khamenei’s office quoted him as telling Putin.
“Economic cooperation between Iran and Russia are a necessity in the interest of both countries, especially in the wake of Western sanctions.”
Khamenei also shared his view that the West is declining.
“Of course, today America and the West have become weaker than before,” he said. “And despite their efforts and the huge money they spend, the success of their policies in our region – including in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine – has dramatically decreased.”
Regarding Syria, Khamenei said U.S. forces should be expelled from “the oil-rich areas east of the Euphrates.”
U.S. troops were deployed to Syria during the campaign against ISIS, partnering with Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to help defeat the Sunni terrorist movement. Several hundred U.S. troops remain in an area that is controlled by the SDF. Russia and Iran back the Assad regime, which wants to reassert its authority over all Syrian territory.
In Tehran, Putin also held three-way talks with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the situation in Syria, where the civil war that began in 2011 has yet to be resolved.
Khamenei’s comments about NATO, Ukraine, and Crimea alluded to the origins of the war in Ukraine.
The Kremlin had long opposed the post-Cold War expansion of NATO into areas formerly under its sway, but after Ukraine and Georgia asked to be put on a path to membership, it began to take concrete steps to stymie their aspirations.
Citing a need to protect pro-Russian separatists in Georgia, Russia invaded the former Soviet republic in 2008, in a brief war that cost Georgia one-fifth of its sovereign territory.
Then, after a pro-Moscow Ukrainian president was ousted by parliament after a violent crackdown on massive street protests, Russia in 2014 began covertly supporting separatists in the eastern Donbass region in their fight against the government in Kyiv.
Putin in 2014 also annexed Ukraine’s strategic Crimea peninsula, after a referendum recorded overwhelming support by its inhabitants for incorporation into the Russian Federation. Most of the international community did not recognize the referendum or the annexation, and continues to view Crimea as sovereign Ukrainian territory.
Last February Putin launched a “special military operation,” ostensibly to protect Russian-speakers in the Donbass region but also designed to reduce the chances of Ukraine ever joining NATO – whose criteria for membership include the absence of unresolved territorial or ethnic disputes.
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