Military Review

Iranian elbows in the South Caucasus

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Iranian elbows in the South CaucasusDecember 5 The negotiations of the representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), the “six” international mediators (five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) and the European Union (EU) to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue are resumed on December 2010. Most likely this will happen in Geneva, where 1 October 2009, the last similar meeting. During this time, quite a lot has happened, mostly of negative events for Tehran, which led to the escalation of the nuclear crisis and the increase of its political and economic isolation.


In particular, in the summer of this year, sanctions were imposed against Iran by the UN Security Council, the EU, Canada, Australia, Japan and the Republic of Korea. Nevertheless, Iran, which signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear weapons as a nuclear-free state, it continues to build its own nuclear missile potential, which causes serious concern not only among world powers, but also among nearby neighbors.

Iran’s growing international isolation is pushing the Iranian leadership to step up its foreign policy at the regional level. At the same time, the main focus is not on the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, but on Afghanistan, Central Asia and the South Caucasus, where Iran has historically had significant influence. How critical is this for the national interests of the Russian Federation, and will such Iranian activity as elbow shocks lead to the gradual crowding out of Moscow from strategically important regions for it? The relevance of this issue for our country is not in doubt, which requires a thorough and in-depth analysis. It is quite difficult to solve this problem, which forces us to focus only on the South Caucasus in order to show the main tendency of Iran’s relations with the states located in the region with historical, political and economic points of view.

HISTORICAL ASPECT

For centuries, Iran had a significant impact on the South Caucasus, through which trade routes passed from the East to Europe and from Europe to the East. He defended his right to this in a bitter struggle against Ottoman Turkey and the Russian Empire. The religious factor only intensified the confrontation: unlike the Sunni Turks who ruled Iran in the 16th - first half of the 18th century, the Safavids were fanatical Shiites, who used their sword and religion to impose their faith. Under these conditions, the Russians acutely felt their moral duty to protect Christian brothers (Armenians, Georgians and Ossetians) from alien to them faith.

Numerous wars of Safavid Iran and Ottoman Turkey were fought with varying success. The final, although far from complete victory was on the side of the Ottoman Turks. Nevertheless, the peace treaty signed in 1555 in the city of Amasya remained largely in force, according to which the regions of Western Georgia — Imeretiya, Mengrelia, and Guria — came under the influence of the Ottomans, and its eastern areas, Meskhia, Kartli, and Kakheti, fell under the power of the Safis. Similarly, the warring powers divided Armenia into western and eastern parts, which allowed the Safavids to create Chukhur-Saad fugitives with their capital in Erivan (Yerevan), which included the territory of the present Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. Modern Azerbaijan at that time was an integral part of the Safavid Iran.

In the 17th century, Iran’s influence on the eastern part of the South Caucasus increased unusually. So, in 1633, an Iranian protege, Muslim, Rostom Khan from the Bagration dynasty began to rule in Carli. The former king, Teimuraz, was overthrown because of an attempt at union with Russia. Khastom Khan showed obedience to the Shah in every way and contributed to the spread of Iranian customs in Eastern Georgia. As for Eastern Armenia, here the power of the Iranian shahs had no boundaries. Thus, by order of Abbas I, 250 of thousands of Armenians were resettled to the internal regions of Iran, who became a national minority in their historic homeland. In the same way, over 200 of thousands of Georgians, mainly from Kakheti, then got to the territory of Iran.

The decline of the Safavid dynasty began at the end of the 17th century, which led to the gradual liberation of the South Caucasus from Iranian influence. Nadir Shah was able to stop this process, but later civil strife arose, which led to the Zend dynasty first, and then to the Qajars. The Qajars managed to somewhat stabilize the situation in the country; but in general, their era was a time of decline, military defeat, complete state powerlessness and the transformation of the country into a semi-colony of the European powers.

RUSSIAN-IRANIAN CONFRONTATION

It also has a long history. Its beginning can be attributed to the middle of the XVII century, and its completion to the 1830 years. In this chronological framework, five stages can be distinguished:

- Russian-Iranian local conflict (1651 – 1653), due to the desire of the Safavid Iran to subjugate the North Caucasus;

- the “Persian campaign” of Peter I (1722 – 1723), caused by the desire of the young Russian Empire to break through the “window to the East”;

- limited Russian-Iranian war (1796), the underlying cause of which was the secondary attempt to consolidate Russia on the coast of the Caspian Sea;

- large-scale Russian-Iranian war (1804 – 1813), as an extension of the zone of influence of Russia in the South Caucasus after being included in the empire of Eastern Georgia;

- The final Russian-Iranian war (1826 – 1828), due to the futile attempts of the fading Iranian power to return the Caucasian territories selected by Russia.

According to the Gulustan peace treaty, which put an end to the 1804 – 1813 Russian-Iranian war, the Karabakh, Ganca, Sheki, Shirvan, Derbent, Cuban, Baku khanates and part of Talyshinsky with the Lankaran fortress were ceded to Russia. In addition, Iran has abandoned all claims to Dagestan, Eastern Georgia, Mengrelia, Imeretia, Guria and Abkhazia. Russia was granted the exclusive right to have its own navy in the Caspian, and the merchants of both countries received the right to free trade.

Signed in February 1828, the Turkmanchay Treaty granted the Russians capitulation rights, that is, advantages over the Iranians in their own country. The territories of the Nakhichevan Khanate, Ordubad District and the Erivan Khanate were ceded to the Russian Empire. Iran pledged to pay a military contribution in the amount of 20 million rubles. silver - a huge amount in those days. The parties exchanged missions at ambassadorial level.

Immediately after the Russian troops took the Erivan khanate, the Russian Armenians proposed to form an autonomous Armenian principality under the Russian protectorate.

Instead, Emperor Nicholas I approved the plan for the creation of the Armenian region with its capital in Erivan and Russian managers. The lands of the Erivan and Nakhchivan khanates and the Ordubad region are included in the Armenian region, which roughly corresponds to the present territory of the Republic of Armenia.

According to Art. The 15 treaty provided for the unimpeded relocation of residents of Iranian Azerbaijan to Russia. The Iranian government tried to prevent this. Nevertheless, from 60 to 100, thousands of Armenians then crossed the Araks River, settling in the territories of the khanates of Erivan, Karabakh and Nakhijevan. This was another prerequisite for the appearance of the Karabakh problem in the future.

Alexander Griboedov played a significant role both in concluding an agreement beneficial for Russia and in organizing the resettlement of Armenians, who in 1828 was appointed minister-resident (ambassador) to Tehran.

Apparently, he could have done a lot in the future, but upon arrival in Tehran, he was killed by Iranian religious fanatics with the indirect involvement of the British. The diplomatic scandal that arose was resolved, including with rich gifts from the treasury of the Persian shahs (among them was the Shah diamond stored now in the Diamond Fund of the Russian Federation).

Throughout the XX century, the influence of Tehran in the South Caucasus was insignificant. The Russian Empire, and then the Soviet Union, not only completely controlled these territories, but also had a significant impact on the northern part of Iran, which twice led to the threat of its annexation. This situation fundamentally changed at the beginning of the 1990s, when the collapse of the Soviet Union occurred. The Iranian, as well as the Turkish leadership tried to take control of the South Caucasus. The most favorable conditions for this were observed in Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan, the majority of whose population were Shiites. By the middle of the 1990-s, Ankara was able to achieve significant success in this area due to ethnic affinity and unconditional support of Baku on the issue of the territorial identity of Nagorno-Karabakh. Tehran, in turn, supported Yerevan, not allowing the full transport blockade of Armenia.

RELATIONS WITH ARMENIA

Currently, the Armenian-Iranian relations are developing quite successfully. At the end of 2008, the supply of Iranian natural gas to Armenia via the Tabriz-Meghri-Kajaran-Ararat gas pipeline with a capacity of up to 2,6 billion cubic meters began. m of gas per year. Payment for the received gas is carried out by supplies to Iran of electricity. The total cost of the project, in which the Russian company Gazprom participated, amounted to $ 250 million. Previously, Armenia received natural gas only from Russia in transit through Georgia.

Currently, there are two high-voltage power lines between Armenia and Iran, through which seasonal electricity flows between the two countries. Construction of another such line with voltage in 400 kV is under consideration. The cost of this project is about 100 million euros.

The countries have already built one and two more modern highways are being built, an agreement has been signed on laying a railway from Iran to Armenia. According to preliminary data, the cost of the latter will be 1,8 billion dollars, of which 1,4 billion will be provided by Iran, and the rest - by Russian Railways. The implementation period of this project will be five years with an annual volume of transportation of 3 – 5 billion tons. In the future, it is planned to increase it to 10 billion tons. The need for this may arise after the opening of the Pre-Caspian railway and a similar Iran-Pakistan road, which will allow Armenia to enter the Indian, Central Asian and Russian markets.
The Navy of the Islamic Republic of Iran is a very important factor in regional security.

Gazprom is ready to participate in the construction of the Iranian-Armenian oil product pipeline and liquid fuel terminal with a capacity of up to 1,5 million tons, which is important for providing Armenia with fuel. Within the framework of bilateral cooperation, the construction of the Megri hydroelectric station is also planned. The cost of these projects is about 500 million.

Nevertheless, the Iranian-Armenian trade turnover decreased by 2009% in 35, reaching $ 138 million in January-November. At the same time, exports from Armenia to Iran did not exceed $ 17 million (3% of total exports). In terms of already six resolutions of the UN Security Council, as well as unilateral sanctions by the United States, the European Union and a number of leading states, it is rather difficult to talk about a significant increase in bilateral trade even if a free trade agreement is signed.

Striving to strengthen its political and economic positions in Armenia, the Islamic Republic of Iran has repeatedly offered Yerevan to export small arms and ammunition, mortars, multiple launch rocket systems, equipment and other property. However, real military-technical cooperation was limited to supplies of Iranian clothing and clothing and long-term storage for the Armenian armed forces. After the adoption of the UN Security Council resolution 1929 in June of this year, the possibilities for such cooperation even more narrowed.

According to some reports, there is an agreement on cooperation in the event of war between Iran and Armenia. In accordance with this treaty, in time of war, the IRI provides the rear of Armenia, and Yerevan prevents the blockade of Iranian territory and does not allow for armed strikes on the IRI from this direction. The feasibility of such a treaty raises serious doubts, especially in the case of the US-Iran conflict. In Yerevan, they value their relations with Washington too much and do not exclude the possibility of joining NATO. Any form of support for the current Iranian leadership will inevitably lead to a deterioration in Armenia’s relations with the West as a whole and will drastically reduce financial assistance, primarily from the related diasporas of France and the United States.

At the same time, one should take into account the positive role that Iran played in resolving the Karabakh conflict. Before 1997, Tehran took an indirect part in this process, interacting through diplomatic channels with Russia. Later, after the formation of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair institute, Iran’s activity in this area decreased. Nevertheless, Tehran continues to offer its services as an intermediary in resolving the Karabakh problem and, which is of particular importance for Russia, opposes the deployment of a NATO peacekeeping contingent in the zone of this conflict.

IRAN-AZERBAIJAN RELATIONS

Immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Tehran tried to expand its influence on the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan. For this, the Iranian authorities significantly eased the conditions for crossing the border, opened a direct aviation and bus services between the Azerbaijani provinces of Iran and the regions of the neighboring state and authorized bilateral ties at the local level in the fields of trade, education, research and economic cooperation. In addition, Iran facilitated the entry of Azerbaijan into regional organizations, provided economic and humanitarian assistance, tried to become a mediator in the settlement of the Karabakh problem. In the period that lasted until 1994, friendly, constructive and mutually beneficial relations developed between Baku and Tehran. However, in Tehran they were afraid of the growth of Azerbaijani separatism, therefore, the Iranian leadership refused to accept Azerbaijani refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding areas, but did not prevent their transit through their own territory.

Later, contradictions began to grow between Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan, which could lead to a deep political crisis. In response to the substantial strengthening of US-Azerbaijani relations, which created a potential threat to Iranian national interests, primarily in the Caspian Sea, Tehran began to actively develop relations with Yerevan. However, at the official level, the Iranian leadership continued to condemn the aggression of Armenia against Azerbaijan.

Restoring the partnership between Baku and Tehran began in 1997, after President Mohammad Khatami came to power in Iran. The Iranian leadership has begun to pursue a more balanced foreign policy in the South Caucasus, focusing on the energy and transport sectors. However, substantial interstate frictions still persisted, which led, for example, in June 2001 to the threat of an Iranian warship attacking a ship that was carrying out geological exploration in the interests of Azerbaijan in the Caspian Sea.

Bilateral cooperation at the political level was only intensified in the 2002 year, after the official visit of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev to Iran. The main outcome of the visit was the resumption of dialogue on such controversial issues as the status of the Caspian Sea. At the same time, a number of documents on cooperation in the field of road construction, customs control, transport and communications, culture and sports were adopted. The achieved level of mutual understanding helped to resolve the situation related to the fact of the violation by the Iranian military plane in the summer of 2003 of the air border of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Further development of the bilateral dialogue at the highest level occurred in January 2005, when the first visit to Iran of the new Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev took place. As part of this visit, a joint political statement was made and bilateral agreements were signed. In particular, the parties agreed to connect the railway networks of the two countries, build the Baku-Astara highway and build a hydropower station on the Araks border river. In addition, the Consulate General of Azerbaijan was opened in Tabriz.

It should be noted that the potential of the Azerbaijan-Iranian economic cooperation remains unfulfilled (the trade turnover does not exceed $ 600 million per year). It is rather difficult to change this situation due to the striving of Baku for independence from its southern neighbor. This is evidenced by the fact of signing in the summer of this year an agreement on the transit of Azerbaijani natural gas through Turkey to the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic. Previously, Iranian gas was used for these purposes.

Despite the significant improvement in Iranian-Azerbaijani relations in recent years, the following negative factors continue to affect them. First, Tehran continues to actively cooperate with Yerevan, which creates a serious gap in the transport blockade of the Armenian territory and objectively postpones the solution of the Karabakh problem for the future. Secondly, the rights of a huge Azerbaijani diaspora (according to some estimates, its number is 20 million, which exceeds 25% of the total population of the country) in Iran are constantly limited. Thirdly, the Republic of Azerbaijan maintains close relations with the main Iranian external adversary, the United States, which inevitably leads to additional friction in Iranian-Azerbaijani relations, in particular with regard to the deployment of American troops in the South Caucasus. Fourth, the uncertainty of the status of the Caspian Sea not only complicates the exploitation of its resources, but also creates the conditions for a possible armed conflict between Tehran and Baku. Fifth, Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan, as exporters of hydrocarbons, are competitors in the European natural gas market.

RELATIONS WITH GEORGIA

The agreement on visa-free regime signed by 3 November 2010, according to which citizens of both countries can travel to each other for up to 45 days without a visa, testifies to a significant rapprochement of relations between Iran and Georgia. In addition, the Iranian consulate in Batumi was opened and direct flights between Tbilisi and Tehran were resumed, interrupted in 2000. On the part of Georgia, this was contributed not so much by an increase in two and a half times the number of Iranian tourists or the expectation of large investments, but by the actual refusal of Iran from recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the clear cooling of Russian-Iranian relations and the fact of living in Iran no less than 300 thousand Georgians . The Iranian side, apparently, is thus trying to weaken the growing political and economic isolation, expand its influence in the South Caucasus and prevent a completely possible US / NATO military strike from this direction.

However, Iranian-Georgian trade is still small (Iran provides less than 1% of Georgia’s total imports). This creates instability in the development of bilateral relations, which is aggravated by the lack of common borders and the persistence of formidable differences in culture, religion and language. In addition, the United States, as the main military-political and financial pillar of the current Georgian leadership, will in every way block the development of such relations.

Thus, due to historical, cultural, political and economic reasons, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Iran did not manage to widely spread its elbows and significantly expand its influence in the South Caucasus and receive here the status of a regional power, like Russia or Turkey. The following reasons contributed to this:

- Tehran’s serious confrontation with the West, which led to the imposition of international and unilateral sanctions against it, which creates extremely unfavorable conditions for the development of economic and political cooperation between the IRI and regional states;

- Iran’s lack of allies in the South Caucasus (Iranian-Armenian relations are more opportunistic because of the clear orientation of Yerevan in the military-political sphere towards Moscow);

- the accelerated development of Iranian nuclear and missile programs, which, against the background of Iran’s aggressive foreign policy and the lack of missile defense systems in the region, causes well-founded concern in the South Caucasus;

- Tehran’s extremely tough and insufficiently substantiated position on the status of the Caspian Sea.
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