Russia and Iran sign information security cooperation agreement

Denys Kolesnyk 3 min read February 4, 2021 586 words

On 26th of January, Russia and Iran signed a cooperation agreement in the field of information security. The agreement was signed in Moscow during a visit by Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

It should be noted that Russia has signed similar agreements in the past, notably within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Moscow has also concluded similar agreements at a bilateral level, albeit with some differences. These include cooperation agreements in the field of international information security.

One example is the agreement on cooperation in the field of international information security between Russia and China, signed in 2015 during Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow.

But let’s get back to the Russia-Iran agreement. The agreement is in line with the treaty establishing the bases of bilateral relations and the principles of cooperation, signed in 2001. This is a so-called “framework agreement” which is supposed to open up the possibility of cooperation in the field of cyber security and information.

As far as the text is concerned, it should be noted that it follows similar language adopted in similar agreements. It notes the concern over the use of threats related to the use of information and communication technologies to “undermine the sovereignty and security of States and interference in their internal affairs”.

The text of the agreement (non-exhaustive list below) defines the main threats to information security arising from the use of information and communications technology, inter alia, for:

  • undermine sovereignty and territorial integrity;
  • damaging economic interests, including through the destruction of critical and informational infrastructure;
  • commit data piracy;
  • interfering in the internal affairs of States, violating public order, inciting inter-ethnic hatred, inciting violence and instability, as well as destabilising domestic politics and the socio-economic situation;
  • Disseminate information that undermines the socio-political and socio-economic systems, as well as the spiritual, moral and cultural environment of States.

One is a purely cyber element, expressed in cyber attacks to damage critical infrastructure and data piracy. The other is informational influence, in other words, what we in the West refer to as ‘information warfare’.

In terms of cooperation between the two countries, a distinction must be made between coordination within international organisations, countering threats to information security, the exchange of information (police, intelligence, etc.), and “cooperation to eliminate the negative consequences of unilateral coercive measures taken in violation of the Charter of the United Nations and international law in the field of information security”.

The agreement explicitly states that neither Russia nor Iran will conduct cyber attacks / information operations against each other.

Official Iranian and Russian communication is also interesting in itself, with sources such as the official Iranian government website referring to the signing of a “Pact” for cooperation on information security. While Russia’s head of diplomacy, Sergei Lavrov stated that he was opening up the possibility of coordination given the growing importance of problems in cyberspace and their growing influence on international relations and “the state of affairs in each country”.

In conclusion, it should be noted that, although the two texts are very similar, the agreement signed with China is more ambitious and comprehensive than the one signed with Iran. Moscow has been working for some time to establish a framework that includes, among other things, a commitment to refrain from conducting cyber attacks and information operations against signatories to such bilateral and multilateral agreements. It should also be added that this agreement is in line with the increased security cooperation between Teheran and Moscow.