Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Iran was covered as the top story worldwide. On November 1, the president was in Tehran to attend the tripartite summit of Iran, Russia and Azerbaijan. The event was held against the background of additional sanctions imposed against Russia and Iran on October 31 by the US Treasury Department. It’s only natural for the nations under sanctions to get closer to each other. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Vladimir Putin that Tehran and Moscow must step up cooperation to isolate the United States and help stabilize the Middle East.
At the end of the summit, the presidents of Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan signed the Tehran Declaration. The leaders announced joint plans to expand collaboration in the oil and gas sector as well as on electricity exchange plans and the formation of a single market. It is planned to use national currencies in trade transactions instead of US dollar.
The plans include the participation of Russian investors and private sectors in joining Iran’s infrastructural projects, including industry and energy, and rail networks. Russia holds the largest amount of natural gas reserves in the world. Iran holds the world's second biggest natural gas reserves. Together the two nations account for around 50% of world reserves of hydrocarbons. By joining together they can significantly influence the world markets.
The Tehran Declaration declares the intent to develop three-way cooperation, including the long-awaited International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), a 7,200km road, rail, and sea route to connect the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea via Iran, and is then to be connected to North Europe via Russia. The project includes ten other countries, connecting Azerbaijan and Armenia in the Caucasus, then moving north and west to Turkey, Belarus, Syria, and Bulgaria, to Oman in the Middle East, as well as north and east to reach Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
Iran also plans to build a railroad to the Mediterranean Sea through Iraq and Syria. Russia could take part in the implementation of the project.
A temporary agreement on establishing a free trade zone between the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and Iran is expected to be signed till the end of the year. A draft agreement between Iran and EEU was signed in Yerevan, Armenia, on July 5 after more than a year of negotiations for levying preferential export tariffs on 350 Iranian industrial products in return for 180 commodities from EEU. The negotiations on a free trade deal with the Eurasian Economic Union make it clear that other nations will not follow the US if it backs out of the nuclear accord with Iran. With global economic interest in Iran, and international commitment to the deal, Tehran looks set to continue its reintegration into the global economy.
Iran has joined Russia in taking control of the Syrian peace process, becoming a party to the Astana peace process. Russian arms supplies, including an S-300 anti-aircraft missile system delivered last year, help Tehran maintain the capability to defend itself, especially in view of potential US intervention.
Azerbaijan is a very important regional actor – a secular state obstructing the spread of religious extremism.
Baku would gain a lot by joining a free trade zone between the EEU and Tehran. The logic and the economic benefits of a free trade area are obvious. It would bring together highly compatible economies and consolidate economic and trade links in Central Asia and in southern Eurasia. It would also allow Azerbaijan to resume trade links with Armenia, a member of the EEU, facilitating a settlement of the currently frozen Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The Moscow-Tehran-Baku format could be much more efficient than the OSCE in finding a peaceful solution to the problem.
The construction of a railroad from Iran to Russia through Azerbaijan was an issue on the agenda. Azerbaijan is ready to allocate 500 million euros to modernize its section of the railway corridor.
President Putin said Russia is ready to deliver gas to the northern part of Iran via Azerbaijan. According to him, Moscow and Baku should not compete when it comes to energy projects. This is a matter of special importance for Baku in view of obstructions created on the way of transporting Azeri gas to Europe. This summer, a group of influential NGOs, including Greenpeace, Bankwatch Network, Friends of the Earth Europe и Climate Action Network Europe, called on the European Commission to withdraw support for the 878-kilometer-long Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) stretching from Azerbaijan. The pretext used is possible damage to climate and increasing energy dependence on oppressive political regimes (meaning Azerbaijan).
Azerbaijan has good reasons to doubt the West’s reliability as an ally. Baku is routinely criticized in the West for being a “dictatorship”. Western NGOs in Azerbaijan have often openly backed anti-government opposition leaders in ways that must make Azerbaijan’s government wonder whether it is a target for a West-backed color revolution.
The burgeoning cooperation between the three powers is just one if the trends shaping the regional landscape. There is also an emerging alliance to involve Turkey-Iran-Qatar – all of them closely cooperating with Moscow.
The process of rapprochement between Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan will continue. The next trilateral meeting will be held in Moscow in 2018. If the plans agreed at the Tehran summit will go through, the landscape of the Middle East and South Asia will change with many countries of the regions united by economic interests. The influence of the United States will greatly diminish. China’s One Belt One Road initiative and the Russia-Azerbaijan-Iran energy bridge will create the conditions for a multi–polar world.