During the recent decade, the most loyal allies of Russia have been Iran, Iraq, and the official government of Syria.

Shia-Sunni distribution map (highres image)

These countries, including Assad-controlled territories of Syria, all have been also known as primarily populated by Muslims who belong to Shia denomination of Islam.

In the earlier times, however, Russia did support regimes in countries who are also Sunni, but this does not seem to be the case at the moment.

My question was inspired by a friend of mine who told me something like "Putin together with Shiites is fighting against Sunnites". Despite this may be a too bold statement, the question is:

Why are the most loyal allies of the Russia are Shiites?

"It's just a coincidence" may be also a good answer if backed with some credible explanation or historic/economic/religious reference.

  • 2
    I was thinking about it from the opposite perspective: most of the US's allies were Sunni. Exceptions: Iraq was a Russian ally while it was controlled by Sunni Saddam, and Iran used to be a US ally under the Shah.
    – Golden Cuy
    Sep 30, 2015 at 22:54
  • @AndrewGrimm - THAT. US basically allied with KSA and Turkey (and to some extent Pakistan); which naturally places Russia into their opponents' camp.
    – user4012
    Oct 1, 2015 at 4:24
  • 1
    @user4419802 just look at the history books, Saddam was USA ally during the Iran/Irak war. USA provided them with a constant supply of weapons and turned a blind eye even to attacks to ships in the Gulf (even hitting an USN ship once), while heavily punishing Iran for far less agressive actions.
    – SJuan76
    Oct 1, 2015 at 9:29
  • 1
    Interactive diagram of geopolitical relationships in the Middle East should have the information you want. Note: Palestine and Israel were discounted for the sake of simplicity. (Another note: website is satire)
    – Golden Cuy
    Oct 4, 2015 at 23:31
  • 1
    @AndrewGrimm, this picture is fairly old, it appeared before lunch. :) Nevertheless, it doesn't explain differences of Sunni/Shii/Alawi affiliation with the Kremlin. Oct 5, 2015 at 2:00

2 Answers 2


Why are the most loyal allies of the Russia are Shiites?

I'd say, not Shiites, but Iran. The current Iraq government is controlled by Iran too. And, yes, Russia maintains good relations with Syria, but Syrian alawites much differ from "ordinary" shiites. They "remembered" of being Shia only in the last time.

Putin together with Shiites is fighting against Sunnites

Here against goes before with. Saudi Arabia, Qatar etc. support terrorism in Russia for decades. And after "Arab spring" their influence in revolted Sunnite states only grows. Just look on anti-Yemen coalition: Saudi's client states would never make friends with Russia. Maybe only Turkey, being an independent regional player, could be viewed as an option.

Now Iran (unofficially) fights against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, and against IS (created by Saudis too!) in Iraq and Syria. Of course, Russia is eager to support Iran against the common enemies.

  • 2
    This post has some valid reasoning, but omits one of the main ones: Russia allied with the states opposing the states "allied" (loosely using the term) with USA.
    – user4012
    Oct 1, 2015 at 4:25
  • @user4012 Well, that is what the Cold War was about. But now Russia doesn't try to conquer the whole world, so it's not interested in opposing USA and its proxies in all regions. In other words, only opposing to USA was not enough for Russia to ally Iran.
    – Matt
    Oct 1, 2015 at 5:10
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    Russia doesn't want to conquer the whole world (for now) - just the immediate neighbourhood. Just to cause as much damage to US influence as it can. The methods are the same.
    – user4012
    Oct 1, 2015 at 14:07
  • Russia and Iran have got a lot of common enemies. by the way, If Russia wanted to take over the whole world It would succeed. it won't be like 40 years ago when U.S and Canada get scared and make Norad against Russian missiles threats. also It isn't a problem for Iran to eliminate ISIS terrorists thoroughly. Iran has been fighting with a lot countries, directly or indirectly, including U.S, for 8 years, sometimes even with bare hands. so it's silly to think some foreign backed terrorists are unbeatable Now.
    – user2977
    Oct 1, 2015 at 17:22
  • @Saeed Yes, and this is why all countries count with Iran. But every next step is more difficult than previous ones.
    – Matt
    Oct 1, 2015 at 18:17

Your assumptions are false:

1- Yousef Yemen 's map is more accurate.

2- They are not allies but they have common interests. Some of common interests:
(i) Iran suffers US hostility which results UN sanctions. Russia can help Iran in the case: 1- Russia can soften severity of sanctions. 2- Iran need to have some technologies (e.g. atomic reactors) that only can deal with Russia in the absence of US (and Consequently EU). In this deal Russia, also, have many benefits. A big market with no rivals.
(ii) Iran and Syrian Government have cooperation against Israel. Russia has naval facility in Tartus. Both Iran and Russia are cautious about changing regime. I believe both want the change be gradual and the new regime were not US ally.
(iii) As Yousef Yemen says Soviet Union suffered very heavy losses from terrorist (which are Sunni Wahhabi). Usually Shiites dont Commit self-willed actions, because they believe that any fight must be with order of top religious scholar. Almost all Shiites top religious scholars knows killing people against "Sharia". This even include infidels until they start fight with Muslims or occupy their land (today only fight with Israel is legal by this sentence). Spreading Shiites thought can help Russia in this case.

3- It is not true that "Putin together with Shiites is fighting against Sunnites".
The problem here, for Iran, is Israel. Iran knows Israel as enemy, as I explained in 2(iii). Then Iran is friend of all Muslims that are against Israel in the scope of Sharia. So Iran support both Hezbollah (Shiite) and Hamas (Sunni).

4- Sunni Arabs make up the largest population group in Syria. Bashar al-Assad 's Religion is Alawite and he rules as secular.

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