Regional triangle Russia-Azerbaijan-Iran

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Regional triangle Russia-Azerbaijan-Iran 18.04.2017 12:07

The beginning of 2017 was marked by Russia's foreign policy activity. This was a logical continuation of last year, which turned out to be extremely important in terms of bilateral contacts and official visits at the highest level, not only in Japan. At the same time, a trilateral summit of regional leaders became a political trend, which are so necessary for strengthening regional security and serve to ensure the economic development of countries against the background of lower prices for energy and other resources.

It should be noted that the Caucasus region is subject to challenges and threats from the Middle East. Therefore, the leaders of the South Caucasus countries pay special attention to the dangers emerging from there. Thus, the threat of terrorism and extremism becomes a unifying factor, at times minimizing the importance of interstate contradictions between neighboring states. In this connection, one may ask, how viable are the regional political triangles? There is the economic benefit obvious when implementing large infrastructure projects in the region The answer to this question can be given on the basis of an analysis of the political interrelations of states among themselves, as well as the development of their relations in regional triangles and future prospects for cooperation between the states located in the region.

A successful example of the development of trilateral cooperation can serve as the interaction of Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan. So, in August 2016 in Baku, on the initiative of the Azerbaijani side, the first tripartite summit of the presidents of these states was held. Thanks to the agreements reached in the Baku Declaration, cooperation on joint struggle against terrorism and development of promising economic projects has been intensified between the countries.

For example, such as the implementation is the International Transport Corridor (ITC) "North-South". The implementation of this project will contribute to the achievement of regional stability and security not only in the South Caucasus, but also in the future in neighboring territories. Consider the development of relations between these countries in the current year.

On March 5, 2017, the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, I. Aliyev, paid an official visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). Over the past three years, such summits of the presidents of Iran and Azerbaijan have been held several times. As a result, during the period 2016-2017 between the countries about20 interstate documents were signed. In particular, following the results of the March negotiations with the Iranian President H. Rouhani, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed on cooperation between the Chamber for Control over Financial Markets of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Financial Monitoring Department under the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Finance of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the field of combating money laundering and other property obtained by criminal means, and the financing of terrorism.

During the meeting, Iranian President H. Rouhani paid special attention to the fact that terrorism comes from the Salafi and Wahhabi ideologies and poses a serious threat to regional security. Consequently, the manifestation of extremist elements to some extent jeopardizes the implementation of joint projects. On the other hand, following the results of the talks, a Memorandum on the construction of a railway between Iran and Azerbaijan was signed, which is aimed at the dynamic development of trade and economic Iranian-Azerbaijani relations. It should be noted that in 2016 the trade turnover between Azerbaijan and Iran increased by 70%.

Some progress has been made in the energy sector. In particular, the National Iranian Oil Company is the investor of the project of the second stage of the Shahdeniz gas field. Nevertheless, the Supreme Leader of Iran, A. Khamenei, at a meeting with Azerbaijani President I. Aliyev noted that the level of economic cooperation between the countries remains at a fairly low level. Indeed, these countries have different trade and economic partners. So, after the introduction of financial and economic sanctions and the disconnection of IRI from the international electronic SWIFT system in 2012, China became the main trade and economic partner of Iran. And for Azerbaijan, this is the European Union.

It should be noted that on the threshold of the visit of the Azerbaijani leader to the test operation, the Astra (Iran) -Astra (Azerbaijan) ITC "North-South" railway section was put into test operation. The Iranian side is accelerating work on this site. Moreover, this project is of great economic importance for all member states of the tripartite format. At the same time, Iranian President H. Rouhani emphasized the importance of the trilateral formats of interaction with other states of the region. In particular, along with the regional triangle under consideration, within the framework of the North-South ITC project, he outlined the need for developing relations in such regional triangles as Iran-Azerbaijan-Turkey and Iran-Azerbaijan-Georgia.

It should be noted that coordinated actions are being taken between Russia and Azerbaijan to combat terrorism and religious extremism. At the same time, close attention is paid in Baku to ensuring national security for ensuring internal stability and economic development.

In addition, there is an active political dialogue between our countries on the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. So, on March 6-7, 2017 an official visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Azerbaijan Republic E. Mammjadyarov to Moscow took place. Then the ways of regulating relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan and prospects for cooperation within the framework of the annual Russian-Azerbaijani interregional forum were discussed. The holding of such a regular event is scheduled for autumn in the capital of the North Caucasus Federal District - Stavropol.

It should also be noted that the dynamics of trade turnover between our countries reached its maximum in 2014 and amounted to $4 billion. In 2015-2016, bilateral trade fell by half. Under these conditions, the implementation of the North-South ITC will contribute not only to improving the economic situation in the Azerbaijan Republic, but also to closer tripartite economic and political integration.

March 27-28, 2017, at the invitation of the Russian side, an official visit to Russia of Iranian President H. Rouhani took place. Then the parties noted an increase in the level of trade and economic relations by 70% (in 2016, the trade turnover between our countries amounted to $2.2 billion, but this is not so much given the existing potential). For the further development of economic relations, the Presidents of Russia and Iran decided to hold in Astrakhan before the end of 2017, a forum on interregional cooperation with the participation of regional leaders and representatives of business circles of the two states. In addition, within the framework of the visit, the possibility of creating a "green corridor", that is, the Free Trade Zone between the EAEU and the IRI was considered.

As a result of the negotiations at the highest level, 15 agreements and memorandums on bilateral cooperation were signed. The ways of expanding cooperation in engineering and civil aviation were discussed. For example, the possibility of delivering of Russian medium-haul aircraft such as Sukhoi Superjet-100 and helicopters for sanitary aviation of Iran is also considered. In addition, an agreement was signed to provide a state export credit from the Russian side to finance the construction of the Syrik thermal power plant in Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf and an agreement between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran on the electrification of the Gamsar-Inche Burun railway section in the north of the country at The total amount of 2.2 billion euros.

Particular attention was paid to the talks on expanding cooperation in the oil and gas sector. In particular, the implementation of joint projects in the territory of Iran in the field of exploration, production, transportation of hydrocarbon raw materials, technology transfer, swap operations and construction of related infrastructure. At the same time, the Russian side noted interest in the development of the gas industry and modernization of the Iranian gas transmission system. The talks discussed the use of gas as motor fuel on Iranian territory and the joint construction of LNG plants. Earlier, an agreement was reached between the governments of our countries on daily deliveries to Russia of 100,000 barrels of Iranian oil. Simultaneously, Tehran continues to discuss with Moscow the scheme of barter oil supplies in exchange for consumer goods. For its part, the Russian Federation is inclined to discuss more profitable swap oil supplies to the Islamic Republic of Iran and the participation of Russian oil companies in its extraction on Iranian territory.

In connection with the gradual withdrawal of the IRI from the sanctions regime and the need to develop national production capacities, our countries discussed projects in the field of nuclear energy. At the same time, the Iranian side confirmed that the first power unit of the Bushehr NPP has reached its designed capacity and produces the necessary energy for the country's economy. It should be noted that the second stage of Bushehr NPP was launched, the opening ceremony of which was held in September 2016.

With the aim of popularizing tourism and providing cultural and humanitarian exchanges between Russia and Iran, an agreement was signed on visa-free group tourist trips (for groups of 5 to 50 people).

An equally important point in the bilateral talks was the confirmation by the Iranian Foreign Minister, M. Zarif, of the possibility of Russia using Iran's military bases on a temporary basis, with the reservation "depending on the" specific case "for carrying out the fight against terrorists in Syria. This is a significant misunderstanding that arose between the parties in August 2016 regarding the use of the Russian military as the temporary base of the 3rd tactical air base Shahid Nozhe.

Undoubtedly, at present Russia's relations with both Iran and Azerbaijan prevail in the military and military-technical fields, including in view of Russia's co-chairmanship in the International Group on Reconciliation in Syria and its active participation in the settlement of the Syrian crisis. In addition, the Russian Federation is co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group for the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Currently, the cooperation indicated in the economy is significantly inferior to cooperation in the security sector.

Nevertheless, the launch of the North-South ITC is a promising leitmotif of economic development and the subsequent economic and political integration of the Russia-Azerbaijan-Iran triangle. Its effective functioning will begin in 2018 after the completion of the construction of the Astara (IRI) railroad - Rasht. Of particular interest is this international project for Azerbaijan, as it allows solving some social and economic problems. At present, the republic reduces the extraction of energy resources and develops the non-oil sector and transit-logistics potential in the direction of "north-south" and "west-east". Its leadership considers it possible to receive billions of dollars from the transit of goods from Iran to Russia and back.

Undoubtedly, the activation of Iranian-Azerbaijani and Iranian-Russian relations is connected with the moderately liberal foreign policy pursued by President H. Rouhani. Therefore, the upcoming (May 19, 2017) presidential elections in Iran are a significant risk for the preservation of the Russia-Azerbaijan-Iran triangle. According to the results, a more conservative president can come to power in the country. However, even with the dissatisfaction of some part of the local population with regard to the current economic course of the current President H. Rouhani, who reduced some social payments and did not achieve a significant flow of investments into the country even in the process of lifting international sanctions, the Conservatives have not yet put forward a single Candidate. In addition, Iran's Supreme Leader A. Khamenei recommended that former President M. Ahmadinejad not participate in the presidential race, fearing the polarization of society in future presidential elections. As a consequence, in the absence of a charismatic leader, the conservatives have fairly confident prospects for the re-election of incumbent President H. Rouhani for a second term.

Another challenge to the continued existence of the Russia-Azerbaijan-Iran triangle is the Israeli factor. Moreover, both Russia and Azerbaijan have good relations with the State of Israel. Iran, in turn, refuses to acknowledge the very fact of its right to exist. At the same time, it should be borne in mind that Baku still did not open an embassy in Tel Aviv, despite significant military-technical cooperation. In turn, Moscow does not set itself the goal of taking a pro-Israel position and changing political guidelines in resolving the Syrian crisis, despite the trusting relationship between V. Putin and B. Netanyahu. On the contrary, Russia's position is to build military-political cooperation with Iran, including as an active partner in the fight against the Islamic state (a terrorist organization banned in Russia) in Syria. Such activities are supported by political dialogue within the framework of the "Astana format", which guarantees the achievement of a real truce and a significant reduction in the intensity of military operations, as well as offering options for a post-war arrangement in the Syrian Arab Republic.

Thus, even in the medium term, the Russia-Azerbaijan-Iran triangle will continue to exist. And not only as an economic association initiated by effective action of the ITC "North-South", but it will also be as a platform for political dialogue between our countries. The latter's task is to provide real military and humanitarian assistance in combating international terrorism both on the territory of its states and neighboring countries of the Middle East


Kharitonova Darya - a research fellow of the Department for Eurasian Integration and Development of the SCO of the Institute of CIS Countries.