Vladimir Putin visits Iran today for his first trip outside the former Soviet Union since the invasion of Ukraine.
The Russian president will meet Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as he seeks to bolster the few foreign alliances his regime still enjoys.
Mr Putin has described Western sanctions against Moscow as a declaration of economic war, and is focusing his attempts at international diplomacy on China, India, and Tehran.
His visit to the Iranian capital is his first trip beyond the old USSR since he travelled to China in February.
“The contact with Khamenei is very important,” said Yuri Ushakov, Mr Putin’s foreign policy adviser. “A trusting dialogue has developed between them on the most important issues on the bilateral and international agenda.
“On most issues, our positions are close or identical.”
An Iranian official told Associated Press: “We need a strong ally, and Moscow is a superpower.”
Meanwhile, on the ground in Ukraine:
• Six civilians have died in a Russian shelling of a two-storey building in the eastern town of Toretsk
• Ukraine’s long-range missiles are being targeted under a directive from Kremlin defence minister Sergei Shoigu
• British intelligence says Russia is bolstering its front line forces with the Wagner mercenary group
• Moscow claims to have shot down a Ukrainian MI-17 helicopter near the eastern town of Sloviansk
• UK’s Ministry of Defence says Russia has “struggled to sustain effective combat power” during the war
Also travelling on Tuesday is Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska, who is in Washington DC. She has rarely been seen since the war began, and has already met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Mr Blinken reiterated America’s commitment to supporting Ukraine, and commended her for her work with civilians dealing with trauma. Ms Zelenska is due to meet her US counterpart Jill Biden later today.
Her trip comes at a busy time for her husband, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is seeking new officials after sacking the head of Ukraine’s security service and prosecutor general over claims of treason.
Monday saw another 28 people dismissed from the security service in what Mr Zelenskyy described in his nightly address as a “personnel audit”.
“Different levels, different areas of focus,” he said of the sackings. “But the reasons are similar – unsatisfactory results of work.”
Russia’s rate of advance ‘likely to be very slow’
Meanwhile, the UK’s Ministry of Defence said in its latest intelligence update that Russia has struggled to sustain effective combat power since the start of its invasion of Ukraine.
The update adds that Moscow’s problem is “likely becoming increasingly acute”.
The Ministry of Defence also wrote: “As well as dealing with severe under-manning, Russian planners face a dilemma between deploying reserves to the Donbas or defending against Ukrainian counterattacks in the southwestern Kherson sector.”
The update also adds that while Russia may still make further territorial gains, their “operational tempo and rate of advance is likely to be very slow”.
Putin to hold talks over Ukraine grain blockade
The blockade of grain exports from Ukraine has been one of the most devastating knock-on impacts of the war, and today will also see talks aimed at getting them moving again.
While visiting Tehran, Mr Putin will meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been seen as a potential mediator on some global issues caused by the invasion.
“Discussions with Putin will focus on grains, Syria and Ukraine,” a senior Turkish official told Associated Press.
“The talks will try to solve the issues on grain exports.”
Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, and the UN are expected to sign a deal later this week aimed at resuming the shipping of grain from Ukraine across the Black Sea.
Russian independent TV channel back on the air
Elsewhere, an independent Russian TV channel is back on the air four months after being forced to close over its content relating to the war in Ukraine.
TV Rain is now broadcasting from the Latvian capital Riga via YouTube, likely to be the only way most people in Russia will be able to see it.