The geopolitical situation in the region of the South Caucasus has been dramatically changed after the victory of Azerbaijan in the Second Karabakh war that resulted in liberation of the internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan from the Armenian occupation, which lasted for about three decades.
The victory of Azerbaijan and the restoration of historical justice, which marked the beginning of the “great return” of Azerbaijanis to Karabakh along restoration of liberated territories on the initiative of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev bring an element of urgency to the issue of post-conflict agenda for the region of the South Caucasus. Against this background main international actors try to obtain political leverage in the mentioned region.
In fact, the only country left without any benefits, except defeated and capitulated Armenia, is Iran that represents itself as Armenia`s closest friend and ally, moreover the guarantor of its security. The chronology of the rapprochement between two rogue states is replete with futile attempts to build up multilateral cooperation against the backdrop of international sanctions imposed on Iran and the aggressive policy of Armenia, which has territorial claims not only to Azerbaijan, but also to Turkey and Georgia.
It is noteworthy that after the end of the Second Karabakh War, Baku, adhering to the course of normalizing relations with Iran, offered Tehran cooperation within the “3+3” (3+2) format, as well as invited Iran to join to the Zangazur corridor project. However, Iran consider this project as a threat to its national interests and afraid from being cut off from the Caucasus.
In this regard, the Iranian expert community and mass media make statements about supporting the borders of Armenia in order to torpedo the process of opening the Zangazur corridor through the territory of the latter.
Hence, in current geopolitical game Tehran is betting on Armenia in order to play on the contradictions in the regional agenda, because the constructive atmosphere of political dialogue and healthy cooperation is exactly the wrong environment for Iran, which is mired in the abyss of internal state chaos, aggravated by international sanctions.
At the same time, paradoxically, Armenia, positioning itself to the West as a stronghold for democracy and human rights in the South Caucasus, supports the thesis of the Iranian leadership on preventing non-regional states from entering the South Caucasus. This is another confirmation of the hypocrisy of Armenian political leadership, warmly welcoming the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the US Congress Nancy Pelosi during her recent visit to Armenia, and simultaneously increasing comprehensive cooperation with anti-American “brotherly” Tehran, which calls the US “the main and malicious enemy” of Iran.
In this regard, the recent visit of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to Tehran after the trilateral meeting of the Armenian leader with Vladimir Putin and Ilham Aliyev in Sochi is not surprising. The official agenda of Pashinyan’s visit to Iran included discussions on deeper bilateral relations, review the implementation of joint projects and the problems of cross-border cooperation.
The main topic of the economic agenda of the Armenian Prime Minister’s visit to Iran was the construction project of the 7.2 km Kajaran Tunnel. According to the Armenian Minister of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure Gnel Sanosyan, who arrived in Iran with an Armenian delegation, led by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, “large-scale road construction projects underway in Armenia, which will enable to increase the volume of Iranian cargo transportation in the near future along these roads”. Iranian news agency ISNA reported that during the meeting it was decided that Iranian companies will begin construction of the 7.2-kilometer Kajaran Tunnel in Armenia in the spring of 2023. “The North-South corridor from Norduz to Verzegan and Tabriz, will facilitate movement of goods and transit opportunities for Iran and Armenia. One of the peculiarities of this route is a significant reduction in the length and travel time,” – said Iranian Minister of Roads and Urban Development Rostam Ghasemi. Most recently, he also announced exporting engineering and technical services from Iran to Armenia and emphasized the full readiness of Iranian companies to develop transportation between the two countries and create a new transit corridor between Armenia and the Persian Gulf.
Regarding trade issues, it should be noted that Iran targeting $3 billion in annual trade with Armenia. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi stressed that “during the previous months, 43 percent increase in trade and economic relations with Armenia was recorded, but the goal, the target is 3 billion USD. We will definitely achieve this goal. Good relations between the two countries will surely lead to strengthening of relations and security in the region”.
In addition, Iran and Armenia have agreed to double the amount of natural gas that Iran sells to Armenia, and to extend their gas trade agreement to 2030.
Finally, apotheosis of Iran’s rapprochement with Armenia is the opening of the Iranian Consulate General in Kapan, as well as the intention of the Armenian side to open the Consulate General in Tabriz.
Noteworthy, sticking to Iranian traditional phobia of “intervention by external forces”, which obviously means the West, and in particular the US, Raisi warns the latter against interfering in the affairs of the Caucasus, stating that “the Caucasus region is a cultural and civilizational part of Iran’s historical past, and we are very sensitive towards that region…The presence of foreign powers not only does not solve any problems, but creates additional problems”.
Such an escapade of Iran is obviously aimed at sweetening its comrade-in-sanctions – Russia, the relations with which entered into a period of rapid flowering after the war in Ukraine. In response to Western sanctions, Moscow set about looking for alternative partners among other traditionally anti-Western countries—including to bypass trade restrictions—and Iran looks set to be one of the most promising. However, the grandiosity of the plans does not negate the fact that the objective possibilities for building up Russian-Iranian cooperation are very limited.
Obviously, Tehran will not be able to effectively help to save the Russian economy by circumventing Western sanctions, and the deep internal political crisis in Iran itself makes it difficult to implement any agreements. Today, Iran is mired in large-scale protest waves that have not subsided for more than a month, which in itself is an unprecedented case for Iran. As it was known, the latest aggravation began in September due to the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in Tehran, who was detained by the morality police for wearing the hijab incorrectly. The outbreaks of unrest are becoming massive, protracted, and uncompromising in their criticism of the Iran’s political regime. This level of instability is creating serious investment risks and getting in the way of implementing any agreements.
At the same time, Russia and Iran managed not only to agree on the supply of weapons, but also to take immediate steps in this direction. The aspect of their relationship that has attracted the most attention recently is Russia’s use of Iranian drones to strike Ukrainian cities. Not surprising that both the Russian and Iranian governments have denied that the kamikaze drones the Russian army is using in Ukraine are Iranian, but all the evidence suggests that they are. Moreover, Ukraine’s military intelligence services reported that “Iran was also about to start supplying Russia with missiles”.
It should be noted that the agreements between Iran and Russia may provoke a new round of protest movement in Iran, given the historically rooted view in Iran about Russia as a colonial power seeking to gain control over local resources. Furthermore, at the beginning of this year there were even small-scale protests in Tehran against Moscow’s military actions in Ukraine.
To sum up, politically ostracized Iran, being a stronghold of obscurantism and massive violation of fundamental human rights, in an attempt to present itself as a geopolitical player in new realities that have been established after the Second Karabakh war, enlisted the support of only two states – Armenia and Russia. In fact, Iran is continuing to pose a threat not only to regional, but also international security. This is confirmed by Tehran’s recent appeal to Russia for assistance in developing nuclear weapons. The US intelligence officials believe that the fuel could help Iran power its nuclear reactors and could potentially further shorten Iran’s so-called “breakout time” to create a nuclear weapon, which will further exacerbate an already tense situation in a world on the brink of a dangerous new nuclear era.