Russia-Azerbaijan-Iran: Contours of Trilateral Strategy

According to the participants in the tripartite talks in Tehran, success has definitely been achieved. First of all, this means real progress in the economic strategy, where the leading element at this stage is the completion of preparations for the creation of the North-South economic corridor.

This ambitious project was conceived as early as the end of the 1980s, but its implementation was delayed for a long time due to complicated historical circumstances affecting all the three countries. Last year, it passed the stage of partial testing. The experimental transportation of goods along the route from India to Russia’s Baltic coast showed a roughly double reduction of the distance to Europe, compared to the sea route through the Suez Canal and a relative reduction in the products supply costs.

It is clear that all participating countries will gain a strategic win, and in the future this project opens good prospects for Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries of Southeast Asia. The corridor will complement the Chinese Belt and Road project for those countries, which are not involved in it. For Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran it promises not only direct economic gains, but also additional competitive advantages. To complete the project, it is necessary to finish the branch of the Rasht (Iran) – Astara (Azerbaijan) railway, after which all the ground logistics of the corridor will be completed.

The other two major issues concern energy. First, this is the implementation of the Russian project to create the Russia-Azerbaijan-Iran energy bridge, designed to unite the electrical systems of the three countries. Here, the agreements in principle have already been reached, and there is progress towards practical implementation. The second, more complex issue concerns the rapprochement of the positions of the three countries in the hydrocarbon area, where they are competitors, but with the prospect of strategic partnership. There are many pitfalls, but the experience of the Russia-OPEC agreement shows that there are no insurmountable obstacles.

Building an economic strategy along the Russia-Azerbaijan-Iran line also opens up opportunities for its further extrapolation to the political area. In any case, the trilateral partnership has already significantly reduced the degree of tensions, which existed between Azerbaijan and Iran. Russia, connected by close strategic cooperation with both countries, can play a key role in building this political line further. For Azerbaijan, this format undoubtedly contributes to the diversification of foreign relations, especially in conditions when external pressure from the West is intensifying not only against Russia and Iran, but also against Azerbaijan.

The summit also confirmed the strategic partnership between Russia and Iran in the fight against terrorism in Syria. The press service of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani issued a statement that Iran intends to cooperate with Russia until the complete defeat of terrorists in Syria.

In general, the topic of terrorism became one of the central issues during the negotiations. The danger of terrorism directly affects security of all three countries, and therefore interest in cooperation in this field was especially emphasized. The issue lies in the practical translation of it into a trilateral format, because the level of bilateral cooperation between Russia and Azerbaijan and Russia with Iran in this area is fairly effective. The problem is to increase the level of confidence between Azerbaijan and Iran, where Russia could contribute.

Official documents do not say whether the Nagorno-Karabakh problem and the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict was discussed during the talks. This issue is central to security in the South Caucasus, it is relevant for all three parties at the Tehran meeting and has always been painfully perceived by both the Armenians and Azerbaijanis in any contacts of Russia or Iran with one or another side of the conflict.

In any case, this issue was somehow invisibly present at the summit. It would be an exaggeration to say that the Tehran talks could directly contribute to the rapprochement of the positions regarding the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. But strengthening of Azerbaijan’s ties with Iran and Russia, which cooperate closely with Armenia, reduces in one way or another the tensions in the South Caucasus.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.