June 13, 2016
Iran, a large market with an 80-million population, has found itself in the center of interest from the world’s economic powers following removal of international sanctions, as the historic nuclear deal came into force in mid-January.
Alongside with the EU, which is already trying to benefit from the new conditions, Iran’s traditional allies also intend to use the situation to strengthen ties with the sanction-freed Iran.
Tehran itself has repeatedly announced that in the post-sanction era it will not forget the countries, such as China and Russia, which backed it under the sanctions’ pressure.
Russia, in this context, has an important place for Tehran. The two countries preserved their close ties despite certain ups and downs in recent years. Tehran and Moscow share joint viewpoints towards various regional issues, including Syrian crisis. Tehran has entered a military coalition with Moscow in Syria, which can lead to closer ties and economic cooperation.
On the other hand, considering Tehran’s political stance, it’s unlikely that the country will move its gaze from East towards West.
President Hassan Rouhani’s diplomatic moves in the post-sanction era also indicate that his administration remains loyal to its Eastern allies and is trying to use the post-sanction opportunities to develop economic ties with Russia, China and India.
Political theorists in Tehran occasionally raise the issue of forming a new block against the West, an Asian block, with Tehran and Moscow as its two main axes.
Tehran also looks to realize its military dreams through Russian help. In spring 2015, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who was confident of a nuclear deal at the door, lifted the ban on supplies of the S-300 air defense missile systems to Iran. Tehran received the first consignment of the system last April and announced that it will continue the weapon purchase from Moscow.
The fresh tensions between Turkey and Russia, at a time when Ankara is already at odds with Tehran over regional issues, also provide new grounds for cooperation between the Islamic Republic and Russia, including profitable tourism and food sector.
Iran and Russia are also speeding up the long-awaited joint projects, which were delayed under the sanctions, including the North-South corridor, an ambitious international transport corridor that will link Northern Europe to South-East Asia.
Where is Azerbaijan’s place in this landscape?
Linking Asia to Europe, Azerbaijan stands at a strategic point between East and West.
Elements from both eastern and western cultures are combined in Azerbaijan. Being both a former Soviet country and a part of the eastern-Muslim world, Azerbaijan has no problems with understanding either Russia or Iran. Azerbaijan also has joint borders with Russia, its strategic counterpart, and Iran, which enjoys good ties with it as well.
The shared cultural and historical traits between Iran and Azerbaijan, and the fact that Iran is a home to the world’s biggest Azerbaijani population, presents a strong foundation for close economic cooperation between the two countries.
Since 2013, when Hassan Rouhani took office as Iran’s president, the two countries’ have boosted their mutual ties to such high level, which wasn’t seen in the previous years.
Despite his predecessor, Iran’s pragmatic president attaches importance to the ties with Azerbaijan, emphasizing on joint interests.
The Islamic Republic sees Azerbaijan as a friendly country, which can contribute to strengthening the Tehran-Moscow ties.
Early in March, Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, the Iranian government spokesman, said that Iran’s ties with Azerbaijan will reach strategic cooperation level in the near future, underscoring that Tehran’s relations with certain neighboring countries, as well as Russia, will witness significant boom within the context of development of the Tehran-Baku relations.
All this shows why Azerbaijan can play a unique role in forming a Tehran-Moscow strategic block, with itself being an irreplaceable part of it.
The Iran-Azerbaijan relations now enjoy such high level that the two countries have launched military cooperation.
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin June 7, confirmed that Azerbaijan is buying weapons from Iran, apart from Russia, Turkey, Israel and Belarus.
There is no doubt that close military cooperation also paves a path for more economic and strategic ties.
As for the North-South corridor, Azerbaijan presents the most economically justified and shortest route that can connect Iran’s southern ports to Russia and through there to Europe.
The North-South corridor, which will serve as a link for connecting the railways of Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia, once launched will make Azerbaijan a transit hub, bringing significant economic profits to the country.
Azerbaijan, which is already known with its energy projects, will contribute to global transit as a center of new Silk Road with important international transport corridors, such as the Trans-Caspian Transport Route passing through its territory.
Both Iran and Russia are also involved in the largest Azerbaijani gas project Shah Deniz, which will contribute to Europe’s energy security.
The three countries also plan to synchronize their power grids. Tehran and Baku have reached an agreement to synchronize their power grids, and via Azerbaijan the Iranian electricity network will join Russia’s power grid.
The trilateral mutual economic interests, as well as joint participation in international transit and energy corridors, present enough capacity to turn Tehran, Baku and Moscow into regional strategic allies.
In Iran, Rouhani’s administration has left behind its third year in office, however it is expected that the pragmatic technocrats will run the country for another four-year period, as Rouhani remains the frontrunner at the next presidential election in 2017.
The upcoming five years are enough time for the three countries to reach a level of strategic cooperation that would not be affected by the changes in Iranian administrations.
Involvement of the three countries’ private sectors in mutual cooperation also will contribute to securing the ties, independent from political changes.
No wonder that both Iran and Azerbaijan are encouraging their private sectors to take part in the expansion of ties between the two neighbors.