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It looks set to reduce European influence in the Middle East and challenge the West’s capacity to curtail Russian intervention and Iranian ambitions in the region.

But is this inevitable, or are there silver linings for Europe?

This can only happen with better understanding of the drivers of Iran and Russia's policy in the region.

Over the past year, Russia and Iran have entered a new phase of military cooperation unprecedented in their relations since the end of World War II.

Europe needs to understand the nature of this new Russian-Iranian dynamic in Syria because it will affect its policies and freedom of action in multiple fields: obviously in the Middle East, but potentially in the wider theatre of Russian-European relations too.

“We cannot isolate Russia on matter X, because we need its support on Iran and Syria”, is a sentence anyone dealing with Russia has heard from multiple European – and American – officials. Russia remained cooperative with the West on the Iran nuclear negotiations even at the peak of the Ukraine crisis, while refusing to subscribe to Europe’s view on Syria even during the calmest of times.

Although we conclude that their new-found military alliance in Syria has structural limits, Western policymakers need to understand the anatomy of their relations and the extent of their ability to cooperate on specific issues such as Syria.

We conclude therefore with some recommendations on how the European Union and its member states should manage the possibility of increased Russian-Iranian cooperation in the Middle East.As a result of Russian intervention in Syria, their armed forces are planning operations and fighting together in support of Bashar al-Assad’s government.In August, Russia began sending a wave of strategic bombers into Syria from an Iranian airbase. It sent a bold signal to the West that both were committed to safeguarding their interests in Syria despite the costs, and was a rare instance of the Islamic Republic authorising action by a foreign power on its soil.This latest cooperation represents a substantial deepening of the political and defence ties between the two countries ushered in by Vladimir Putin on his return to the Russian presidency, and of links marked by an expanding arms trade over the past three decades.The new closeness between Moscow and Tehran in Syria has already had serious consequences for Europe.It has strengthened Assad’s hand, increased violence, resulted in more refugees flowing into European countries, and further marginalised Europe on the diplomatic track.Yet question marks remain about the durability of the relationship.Many argue that Russian-Iranian cooperation in Syria is purely opportunistic, based on short-term interests that temporarily overshadow equally prominent differences.While this is true, the alliance is nonetheless underpinned by some deep-seated commonalities in their wider vision of international relations.If Europe wants to cooperate with Russia, it needs to know what drives Russia’s view on these regional hotspots.Likewise, the nature of the new Russian-Iranian relationship deserves a deeper look. What limitations does this set for European policy on Iran, the wider MENA region, or Russia?

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