President Vladimir V. Putin left Russia for a rare international trip on Tuesday and received a handsome reward: a meeting with a prominent world leader who voiced a full-throated endorsement for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Traveling to Iran, Mr. Putin worked to solidify an Iranian-Russian alliance that has been emerging as a significant counterweight to American-led efforts to contain Western adversaries. He met with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, who issued a declaration of support for Mr. Putin’s war in Ukraine of the kind that even other countries close to Russia have so far stopped short of making.
“War is a violent and difficult endeavor, and the Islamic Republic is not at all happy that people are caught up in war,” Mr. Khamenei told Mr. Putin, according to the supreme leader’s office. “But in the case of Ukraine, if you had not taken the helm, the other side would have done so and initiated a war.”
Mr. Putin also held a three-way summit meeting focusing on Syria with the Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, and their Turkish counterpart, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was also in Tehran, the Iranian capital.
The day’s choreography crystallized Mr. Putin’s determination to push back against attempts to punish and isolate Russia, engaging with fellow American adversaries like Iran and with other countries like Turkey — a NATO member — whose alliances are more tangled.
Mr. Khamenei’s endorsement of the war went well beyond the much more cautious support offered by another key Russian ally, China, embracing Mr. Putin’s claim that the West had left the Kremlin no choice but to act.
It was a signal to the world that with Europe and the United States now hitting Russia with sanctions comparable to those that have suffocated Iran’s economy for years, the long-fraught relationship between Moscow and Tehran may be becoming a true partnership.
“Russia and Iran still don’t trust one another, but now need each other more than ever,” said Ali Vaez, the Iran director for the International Crisis Group. “This is no longer a partnership of choice, but an alliance out of necessity.”
For years, Russia was careful not to get too close to Iran, even as the two countries shared an adversarial relationship with the United States and cooperated militarily after Russia’s intervention in the civil war in Syria. For Mr. Putin, his attempts to build relations with Israel and Arab countries precluded a full-fledged alliance with Tehran.
But the Russian invasion of Ukraine changed the calculus.
Increasingly cut off from Western markets, Russia is looking to Iran as an economic partner, as well as for expertise in skirting sanctions.
Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, has signed a nonbinding $40 billion deal to help develop gas and oil fields in Iran, according to Iranian reports. And, American officials say, Russia is looking to buy much-needed combat drones from Iran for use over Ukraine, a matter that was not addressed publicly in Tuesday’s meetings.
Ahead of Mr. Putin’s visit, Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, told an Iranian broadcaster that Iran and Russia could soon sign a treaty on…