Russia opens doors for Iran’s Eurasian integration

The January meeting between Raisi and Putin may have seemed disappointing, but now Russia is opening the door for Iran’s Eurasian integration.

On January 20, Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi traveled to Moscow to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. The purpose of developing bilateral relations between the two countries at the highest level.

Among the topics for discussion by the two leaders were their common regional and international issues. As well as the Vienna talks on Iran’s nuclear program, and regional cooperation in Eurasia.

Contrary to expectations and positive statements made before the meeting, the visit did not end with the announcement of a grand strategic agreement. Unlike the one between China and Iran a year ago.

However, the visit brought the negotiations between the two sides to a higher level and promoted Iran’s economic integration into the Russian-Chinese Eurasian architecture.

Big hopes, not grandiose announcements

In recent years, both improving relations between Tehran and Moscow and focusing on strategic partnership have become particularly important tasks for Iran.

Additionaly to working to build up trade and economic ties, which is a priority for Iran, which is under sanctions, an additional impetus may be given to the development of military-political cooperation in the future.

October 2021 – Interfax, citing Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, announced that Tehran was ready to establish a strategic partnership with Moscow and that both sides were expected to sign documents on an agreement in the coming months.

According to the agencyTASS , both sides were close to completing work on a document on comprehensive cooperation for a period of 20 years.

Timing is important for both countries. Mojtaba Zulnur, chairman of Iran’s parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy, told Mehr news agency that in order to overcome US sanctions, Iran seeks to conclude a partnership agreement with Russia. Similar to the agreement between Tehran and Beijing.

However, contrary to expectations and some statements made prior to the Iranian leader’s trip to Russia, the visit of President Raisi, at least for the moment,did not lead to a major breakthrough on this front. This process may take some time and may, at least for Moscow, be related to the outcome of negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program.

However, two recent events involving Russia and Iran have had significant resonance. First, the joint Russian-Chinese-Iranian naval exercises in the Indian Ocean. Second, Iran’s relationship with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) along with the implementation of the North-South International Transport Corridor (ITC).

Will Iran join the EAEU in the near future?

Iranian political analyst and former editor-in-chief of the Fars news agency Mostafa Khoscheshm instead says that Russia appears to be pushing for Iran to join the EEU. “Negotiations,” he says, “are already underway . “

In 2019, the Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA), signed between Iran and the EAEU in 2018, came into force.

The agreement provided for lower tariffs on 862 types of goods. 502 of them were Iranian exports to the EAEU. As a result, trade increased by more than 84 percent between October 2019 and October 2020.

According toVali Kaleji , an Iranian expert on Central Asia and Caucasian studies, this trade volume was achieved at a time when the US under former President Donald Trump withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2018 and followed a policy of “maximum pressure” against Iran .

In October 2021, Iran and the EAEU started negotiations on the transformation of the SPT intoFree Trade Agreement (FTA). If this is achieved, it will lead to a significant increase in the volume of trade between Iran and the EAEU, also known as the Union.

Both Moscow and Tehran have reasons to insist on further integration of Iran into the Union.

Both sides have reasons to support further integration

For Iran, this opportunity will provide improved access to Eurasian and European markets. It will also provide EAEU member states with greater access to the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea. For this reason, Moscow may be thinking one step ahead.

Moscow views the signing of an FTA agreement with Iran as a decisive step for Iran’s accession to the Union.

Russia has concerns that if Iran reaches an agreement with the US on its nuclear issue, there could be positive shifts in Iranian policy towards the West. This may not serve Russian interests in Western Asia, especially in Syria.

For Russia, a nuclear Iran is preferable to a pro-Western one. For this reason, Russia would be happy to accelerate the integration of Iran into the Eurasian regional institutions.

Iran’s entry into the nine-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) should be viewed from this perspective. Moreover, with the accession of Tehran to the EAEU, neighboring and friendly countries such as Iraq and Syria may follow.

On December 27, 2021, Iran and Iraq agreed to build railroad linking the two countries. The 30-kilometer railway will be strategically important for Iran. It will connect the country to the Mediterranean Sea via the Iraqi and Syrian railways.

It would be a win-win situation for both China and Russia. The situation in which China, as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, and Russia, as part of itsThe North-South International Transport Corridor would have direct rail access to the Mediterranean.

Preventing Turkey access to the Caspian Sea

This route will also compete with India’s Arab-Mediterranean Corridor. One that is connecting India to the Israeli port of Haifa via various UAE, Saudi Arabian and Jordanian railways.

Thus, for China and Russia, strengthening the geopolitical and geo-economic position of Iran in the region is an important step. From Russia’s perspective, having a direct land route through the Levant to the Mediterranean would bolster its strong base in Syria.

It is for this reason that Iran acted prudently in response to the recent Azerbaijani provocations on the border with Armenia. Tehran feared that Turkey would gain direct access to the Caspian Sea and Central Asia through a possible “corridor” from southern Armenia.

For Iran, this would be tantamount to expanding NATO into the Caspian Sea and further towards China. Consequently, the west-east trade route would pose a serious threat to Iran and Russia and isolate them in Eurasia.

According to Khoscheshm, “The hostility from the Western bloc has brought Iran and Eurasia closer to each other, and this has given the Russians and Chinese a strong motivation to accelerate Iran’s entry into the Eurasian bloc in order to strengthen joint economic and geopolitical cooperation and prevent US infiltration into the region.”

Thus, Iran’s accession to the EAEU is a win-win situation for both Moscow and Tehran. Russia would strengthen its geo-economic and geopolitical position in the Middle East, while Iran would have rail links with Russia and Europe and further expand Moscow’s influence in the region.

However, this ultimate goal may still take time to achieve and will face challenges from the US and its allies in the region.

Confidence in the face of uncertainty

The possible entry of Iran into the EAEU will attract investment from neighboring countries in the underdeveloped rail link between Iran and Russia in the Caucasus region.

The opening of communication channels between Armenia and Azerbaijan as part of a tripartite statement dated November 9 will facilitate trade and cargo transportation in the region within the North-South transport corridor.

Under such conditions, the rail network is very important, since the volume of goods transported by rail is much larger and faster than by land and road routes. However, the implementation of these projects is not yet certain.

The state-owned Russian railways halted their projects in Iran in April 2020 due to concerns about US sanctions. Such a decision would have an impact on other programs within the framework of the Russian-Iranian initiative to create a North-South transport corridor.

Both sides will have to wait to overcome US sanctions, as economic routes are always a win-win situation.

By joining the EAEU and integrating into the Eurasian regional organizations, Iran would strengthen its geo-economic position as a regional transport hub, opening the West Asian gate for Moscow’s railway access to the Eastern Mediterranean.

Russia and China oil supplies through Kazakhstan

Russia and China signed an agreement on oil supplies through the territory of Kazakhstan for 10 years. This became known as a result of the visit of the Russian delegation headed by President Vladimir Putin to Beijing. Rosneft revealed the details of the new agreement.

Rosneft and the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) have signed an agreement on the supply of oil to Chinese refineries through the territory of Kazakhstan. It will be valid for 10 years. The press service of Rosneft reported on the results of the visit of a Russian delegation led by President Vladimir Putin to Beijing on Friday.

It is specified that 100 million tons of Russian oil will be sent to refineries located in the northwestern part of China. Also during the visit, agreements were signed in the field of low-carbon development, digitalization and technological cooperation.

Rosneft’s total oil supplies to China since 2005 amounted to 442 million tons of oil. The company occupies a leading position among oil exporters to China. It is annually providing 7% of the country’s total demand for raw materials.

Russia and Mongolia moved on to the stage of designing the Soyuz Vostok gas pipeline to China. It is planned that its capacity will be up to 50 billion cubic meters of gas per year. The gas pipeline will pass through the territory of Mongolia. It will become a continuation of the Russian gas pipeline “Power of Siberia – 2”


China and Russia will strengthen integration cooperation in Eurasia

The leaders of Russia and China intend to intensify integration cooperation in Eurasia. According to a joint statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, published by the Kremlin press service on February 4. Moscow and Beijing have coordinated their positions on foreign policy issues.

Work on linking the development plans of the Eurasian Economic Union and the One Belt, One Road initiative is planned to be strengthened. It is noted that this is necessary to deepen practical cooperation between the EAEU and China, as well as to increase the level of interconnectedness between the Asia-Pacific and Eurasian regions.

“The parties confirm their focus on the parallel and coordinated formation of the Greater Eurasian Partnership and the construction of the Belt and Road in the interests of developing regional associations, bilateral and multilateral integration processes for the benefit of the peoples of the Eurasian continent,” the text says.

The statement also notes that Beijing  treats with understanding and supports” the proposals put forward by Moscow on the formation of long-term legally binding security guarantees in Europe. 

International Law rather than “certain rules developed in a closed circle”

Russia and China intend to jointly oppose attempts to replace international law with “certain rules developed in a “close circle” by individual countries or blocs of countries. “Putin and Jinping also stressed that countries are unanimous in understanding that “democracy is a universal human value, and not the privilege of individual states”. Therefore, attempts by “individual states to impose their” democratic standards on other countries … in fact, represent an example of trampling on democracy and retreat from its spirit and true values.

On the eve of the visit to Beijing for the opening of the Olympic Games, Putin published an article “Russia and China: A Strategic Partnership for the Future”. In that article he stated that Russian-Chinese relations have reached an unprecedented level of “comprehensive partnership and strategic interaction.” He emphasized that the foreign policy coordination of Russia and China is based on close, coinciding approaches to solving global and regional problems.

Turkey seeks allies

The reduction of the American presence in the Middle East and the possible strengthening of Iran’s positions in the event of the lifting of the sanctions imposed by the Americans, are forcing the leading countries of the region to reset their relations with their neighbors. In particular, with Israel, the existential enemy of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). And with Syria, trying to balance Tehran’s influence in this country.

Turkey is also trying to integrate into the conciliatory trend, but for different reasons. Turkey’s hyperactivity within the neo-Ottoman foreign policy paradigm was perceived by the overwhelming majority of Arab countries as a certain threat to the regional status quo. Ankara’s use of various Islamist organizations, for example, the Muslim Brotherhood , caused additional irritation from the Arab regimes.

It is not surprising that the ultimatum of the leading Arab countries put forward to Qatar (perhaps Turkey’s only ally in the region) included the termination of military cooperation with Ankara and the elimination of the Turkish base on Qatari territory among the conditions for lifting the blockade. Back in 2018, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Anwar Gargash called on the Arab countries to rally against the threat of the growth of Turkish (and at the same time Iranian) hegemonism in the Middle East About the same time Cairo called on the members of the League of Arab States (LAS) to develop a consolidated position to condemn the Turkish military campaign in Syria.

Ankara realized that it was in regional isolation, exacerbated by growing friction with the United States and NATO

They decided to start reconciliation with the three leading states of the region – the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Relations with them in recent years have balanced on the brink of the Cold War, and the mutual exchange of reproaches, as a rule, proceeded in a sharp, if not offensive form. Along with “personal” contradictions with Ankara, all three countries are united by their rejection of the support of the Turkish leadership for the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as Turkish activity in northern Iraq and Syria. The Emirates, by the way, reopened the embassy in Damascus. Cairo is actively lobbying for the return of Syria to the Arab League. Riyadh, at least, does not bother him in this.

The Saudi-Turkish dialogue resumed at the end of last year, in May the Turkish Foreign Minister visited Riyadh, but then the process stalled, although the Saudis lifted an unspoken ban on imports from Turkey.

At the end of 2020, the Turkish president announced his country’s desire to restore “historical friendship” with Egypt. In addition to “breaking through” political isolation, Turkey, whose foreign economic paradigm was becoming a European energy hub, was clearly counting on the transit of Egyptian natural gas through its pipelines. Such a project is not without interest in Cairo, but it has an alternative proposal – overland and sea transit through Israel (with which relations have been normalized for a long time), Cyprus and Greece (with which Cairo has become close, first of all, on the “gas” basis). 

Trying to improve relations in the region

This makes it possible to act without haste in the Turkish direction: “If we see from Turkey real actions to stabilize the situation in the region, and they will take place in parallel with the actions of Egypt, then this can become the basis for the normalization of relations,” – the head of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry stated with restraint. In full accordance with the old anecdote: “… if a diplomat says ‘maybe’, it means ‘no’.”

Relations with the UAE inspire more optimism in Ankara. Last November, Recep Tayyip Erdogan received the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the de facto ruler of the Emirates. At the talks, they discussed both the multi-billion dollar Emirati investments in the Turkish economy and the political situation in the Middle East. Upon their completion, the Turkish leader even rushed to announce the beginning of a “new era” in relations between the two countries.

Nobody talks about a “new era” in relations with Israel , the leaders of the two countries just started calling some time ago, and Erdogan, in the process of this communication, argued that “Turkish-Israeli relations are important for security and stability in the Middle East,” and “disagreements can be minimized if mutual understanding is shown on bilateral and regional issues. “

In order to stimulate dialogue, the Turkish side even staged an “incident” by arresting Israeli tourists on charges of espionage who were photographing one of Ankara’s main attractions, the new presidential palace. Then they were released, and the President of Israel thanked the Turkish counterpart for “humanity.” Again by phone.

Possible exchange of ambassadors with Israel

Also, according to a number of media outlets, the parties are preparing to exchange ambassadors. After Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the suppression by the Israeli security forces of the Palestinian protests that began in this regard, Turkey and Israel recalled their ambassadors.

Recent events in Turkish-Iranian relations – an example of how the escalation of confrontation is extinguished with the help of diplomacy

These relationships are a complex interweaving of cooperation and conflict. The two countries have been competing for influence in the Middle East (primarily in Iraq and Syria) for more than one hundred years, and such a story does not promote mutual trust.

In addition, today’s Turkey remains a member of NATO and, despite a whole series of mutual reproaches, is an ally of the United States – the “big shaitan” from the point of view of the Iranian authorities. In addition, Ankara is trying to reconcile with Israel and Saudi Arabia, which also cannot please Iran. As well as the active penetration of Turkey into Syria, Transcaucasia and Central Asia, moreover, under slogans that can be interpreted as pan-Turkic. And quite recently, this complicated process led to a demonstration of the full combat readiness of the Iranian and Turkish armed forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

However, to the surprise of many observers, on November 15, 2021, the Iranian Foreign Minister, following talks with his Turkish counterpart, said that the parties agreed to adopt a roadmap for long-term cooperation during Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Iran scheduled for December.

The presence of partners and a way out of regional isolation should, in the opinion of the Turkish leadership, raise its rating within the country and add political weight to it in the eyes of the world’s leading actors, and above all the United States, relations with which have been degrading for a long time.

Not particularly successful at the moment

So far the situation is not particularly successful for Ankara. Most experts are skeptical about reconciliation with the Arab countries. They are believing that the process will end not with the establishment of allied or even partnership relations. It will be only with a temporary truce in the Arab-Turkish confrontation. The situation has changed: even the Palestinian problem, with the help of which Erdogan tried to gain prestige among the Arab capitals, lost its relevance: it came to joint US-Arab-Israeli military exercises.

In trying to normalize relations with Israel, Ankara, given the geopolitical role of the Jewish state, is likely hoping to reclaim the White House. The transportation of Israeli natural gas is also of considerable interest. For its part, the Jewish state is ready to normalize ties. But, obviously, nothing more.

The economic interests of Turkey and Iran are complementary. Turkish market needs Iranian energy resources, the Iranian market needs Turkish industrial goods. And the threat of Kurdish nationalism “with a separatist bias” is equally painful in Tehran and Ankara. They also need to “do something with Afghanistan” and avoid clashes in Syria. And again, to confirm to ourselves and to the world the ability to find regional partners.

So far, it is rather a process for the sake of process. In order to achieve real results, Ankara will obviously have to revise a number of paradigmatic attitudes in foreign policy. It will be extremely difficult for the current Turkish leadership, which has spent a lot of effort on creating the current political image of Turkey.

New Great Game in the Caucasus and Central Asia

Players unite and face off so fast Eurasian integration’s chessboard feels like musical chairs prestissimo

By PEPE ESCOBAR

The Eurasian chessboard is in non-stop motion at dizzying speed. Caucasus and Central Asia are in the focus of developments.

After the Afghanistan shock, we’re all aware of the progressive interconnection of the Belt and Road Initiative, the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). And of the preeminent roles played by Russia, China and Iran. These are the pillars of the New Great Game.   

Let’s now focus on some relatively overlooked but no less important aspects of the game. Ranging from the South Caucasus to Central Asia.

Iran under the new Raisi administration is now on the path of increased trade and economic integration with the EAEU, after its admission as a full member of the SCO. Tehran’s “Go East” pivot implies strengthened political security as well as food security.

That’s where the Caspian Sea plays a key role. Inter-Caspian sea trade routes completely bypass American sanctions or blockade attempts. 

Iran’s renewed strategic security anchored in the Caspian will also extend to and bring benefits to Afghanistan, which borders two of the five Caspian neighbors: Iran and Turkmenistan. 

The ongoing Eurasian integration process features a Trans-Caspian corridor as a key node. From Xinjiang in China across Central Asia, then Turkey, all the way to Eastern Europe. The corridor is a work in progress.

Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC)

Some of it is being conducted by CAREC (Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation), which strategically includes China, Mongolia, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, the five Central Asian “stans” and Afghanistan. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) coordinates the secretariat. 

CAREC is not a Chinese-driven Belt and Road and Asian Infrastructure Development Bank (AIIB) body. Yet the Chinese do interact constructively with the Western-leaning, Manila-based ADB.

Belt and Road is developing its own corridors via the Central Asian “stans”. And especially all the way to Iran, now strategically linked to China via the long-term, $400 billion energy-and-development deal.

The Trans-Caspian will run in parallel to and will be complementary to the existing BRI corridors. There we have, for instance, German auto industry components loading cargo trains in the Trans-Siberian bound all the way to joint ventures in China while Foxconn and HP’s laptops and printers made in Chongqing travel the other way to Western Europe.

The Caspian Sea is becoming a key Eurasian trade player since its status was finally defined in 2018 in Aktau, in Kazakhstan. The Caspian is a major crossroads simultaneously connecting Central Asia and the South Caucasus, Central Asia and West Asia, and northern and southern Eurasia.

It’s a strategic neighbor to the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC) – which includes Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan and India. While also connecting Belt and Road and the EAEU. 

Watch the Turkic Council

All of the above interactions are routinely discussed and planned at the annual St Petersburg Economic Forum and the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. These are Russia’s top economic meetings alongside the Valdai discussions.  

There are also interpolations between players – some of them leading to possible partnerships that are not exactly appreciated by the three leading members of Eurasia integration: Russia, China and Iran.  

For instance, four months ago Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Minister Ruslan Kazakbaev visited Baku to propose a strategic partnership – dubbed 5+3 – between Central Asia and South Caucasus states.

A specific problem is that both Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan are members of NATO’s Partnership for Peace – which is a military gig. And also of the Turkic Council, which has embarked on a resolute expansion drive. To complicate matters, Russia also has a strategic partnership with Azerbaijan. 

The Turkic Council has the potential to act as a monkey wrench dropped into the Eurasian works. There are five members: Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Pan Turkism or Pan Turanism

This is pan-Turkism – or pan-Turanism – in action, with a special emphasis on the Turk-Azeri “one nation, two states.” Ambition is the norm. The Turkic Council has been actively trying to seduce Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Hungary to become members.

Assuming the 5+3 idea gets traction that would lead to the formation of a single entity from the Black Sea all the way to the borders of Xinjiang, in thesis under Turkish preeminence. And that means NATO preeminence.   

Russia, China and Iran will not exactly welcome it. All of the 8 members of the 5+3 are members of NATO’s Partnership for Peace. While half (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Armenia) are also members of the counterweight, the Russia-led CSTO.  

Eurasian players are very much aware that in early 2021 NATO switched the command of its quite strategic Very High Readiness Joint Task Force to Turkey. Subsequently, Ankara has embarked on a serious diplomatic drive. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Aka visiting Libya, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Translation: That’s Turkey – and not the Europeans – projecting NATO power across Eurasia.

Add to it two recent military exercises, Anatolian 21 and Anatolian Eagle 2021, focused on special ops and air combat. Anatolian 21 was conducted by Turkish special forces. The list of attendants was quite something, in terms of a geopolitical arc. Apart from Turkey, we had Albania, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Qatar, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan – with Mongolia and Kosovo as observers.

Once again, that was Pan-Turkism – as well as neo-Ottomanism – in action.

Watch the new Intermarium

Speculation by Brzezinski nostalgia denizens that a successful 5+3, plus an expanded Turkic Council, would lead to the isolation of Russia in vast swaths of Eurasia are idle.

There’s no evidence that Ankara would be able to control oil and gas corridors. This is prime Russian and Iran territory. Nor to influence the opening up of the Caspian to Western interests. That’s a matter for the Caspian neighbors, which include, once again, Russia and Iran. Tehran and Moscow are very much aware of the lively Erdogan/Aliyev spy games constantly enacted in Baku. 

Pakistan for its part may have close relations with Turkey – and the Turk-Azeri combo. Yet that did not prevent Islamabad from striking a huge military deal with Tehran. 

According to the deal, Pakistan will train Iranian fighter pilots and Iran will train Pakistani anti-terrorism special ops. The Pakistani Air Force has a world-class training program – while Tehran has first-class experience in anti-terror ops in Iraq/Syria as well as in its sensitive borders with both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Turk-Azeri combo should be aware that Baku’s dream of becoming a trade/transportation corridor hub in the Caucasus may only happen in close coordination with regional players.

India and Iran are developing their own corridor

The possibility still exists of a trade/connectivity Turk-Azeri corridor to be extended into the Turkic-based heartland of Central Asia. Yet Baku’s recent heavy-handedness after the military victory in Nagorno-Karabakh predictably engineered blowback. Iran and India are developing their own corridor ideas going East and West.

It was up to the chairman of Iran’s Trade Promotion Organization, Alireza Peymanpak, to clarify that “two alternative Iran-Eurasia transit routes will replace Azerbaijan’s route.” The first should open soon, “via Armenia” and the second “via sea by purchasing and renting vessels.”

That was a direct reference, once again, to the inevitable International North-South Transportation Corridor: rail, road and water routes crisscrossing 7,200 kilometers and interlinking  Russia, Iran, Central Asia, the Caucasus, India and Western Europe. The INSTC is at least 30% cheaper and 40% shorter than existing, tortuous routes.

Baku – and Ankara – have to be ultra-savvy diplomatically not to find themselves excluded from the inter-connection, even considering that the original INSTC route linked India, Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia.

Two Camps

Two camps seem to be irreconcilable at this particular juncture. Turkey-Azerbaijan on the one hand and India-Iran on the other. Pakistan in the uncomfortable middle.

The key development is that New Delhi and Tehran have decided that the INSTC will go through Armenia.

That’s terrible news for Ankara. A wound that even an expanded Turkic Council would not heal. Baku, for its part, may have to deal with the unpleasant consequences of being regarded by top Eurasian players as an unreliable partner.

Anyway, we’re still far from the finality expressed by the legendary casino mantra, “The chips are down.” This is a chessboard in non-stop movement.

We should not forget, for instance, the Bucharest Nine. These are: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. That concerns a prime NATO wet dream. It is the latest remix of the Intermarium – as in de facto blocking Russia out of Europe. A dominating team of 5 +3 and Bucharest Nine would be the ultimate pincer in terms of  “isolating” Russia.

Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.

India on the side of Armenia against Turkey, Azerbaijan and Pakistan

The warnings of some political scientists about the importance of a small piece of land in Armenia called Syunik for the geopolitical coordinates of the countries of the region and large countries – economic and political giants, were ignored by practicing politicians. Russia, in fact, which allowed the 44-day Karabakh war to begin, stood up as a peacemaker and coordinator before the difficult and controversial elections. On both sides of the dividing line, there are countries with which Russia has the closest economic ties.

Having won the war, Azerbaijan set out to break through the so-called “Zangezur corridor” under the pretext of opening communications. He is fully supported by Turkey. In turn, “breaking through” the corridor is accompanied by infringement of the rights of Iranian carriers, since Azerbaijani checkpoints have been erected on the section of the Goris-Kapan road connecting Armenia and Artsakh with Iran, in the territories that came under the control of Azerbaijan.

They are clearly being cunning, since the road has never passed through the territory of Azerbaijan. Simply taking advantage of the defeat of Armenia, Azerbaijani troops advanced a couple of extra kilometers and took control of an almost 20-kilometer section of the road. In response to decisive protests, and then actions to transfer military units and heavy weapons to the Iranian-Azerbaijani border, Iran warned Azerbaijan that it would not allow the redrawing of borders and would not allow obstacles to its trade with Armenia, through which Iran has the ability to bypass tough US and Western sanctions have been dominating Iran for several decades.

Joint military exercises by Azerbaijan, Turkey and Pakistan

In response, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Pakistan held joint military exercises, demonstrating the readiness of these countries to resolutely rebuff Iran. Having stood on the side of Azerbaijan during the Karabakh war and provided assistance in the form of weapons and a special forces detachment that reportedly participated in the capture of Shushi, Pakistan, as an ally of Azerbaijan, somewhat changed the alignment of forces, since it possesses nuclear weapons. And if Azerbaijan achieved victory thanks to active Turkish participation, which cannot but irritate Iran, Turkey’s competitor for the right to be a regional leader, Pakistan’s participation caused an immediate reaction in India, which is working with Iran on the North-South project.

For more than 30 years, Indian officials, who had not visited Armenia, unexpectedly visited Armenia in the person of Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on October 12-13. This was the first visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of India to the Republic of Armenia.

“India as the largest democracy in the world, a large, fast-growing economy, as well as a peace-loving state can contribute to stability, development and peace in the South Caucasus,” Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan said at a press conference.

India stepping in

In this context, the Foreign Minister again recalled the position of Armenia regarding the fact that the use of force cannot be the basis for resolving the conflict, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict should be resolved through peaceful negotiations within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs, based on well-known principles.

Ararat Mirzoyan stressed that Armenia highly appreciates the statement of the Indian Foreign Ministry made in May this year on the need to withdraw the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan from the sovereign territory of Armenia. In turn, Armenia confirms its position on assisting India in the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, which are under Pakistani control.

If until recently India was ready to be content with a highway running through Azerbaijan, then in the new realities only the Armenian transit is seen by the Indian side as promising and profitable from a political point of view.

North-South Transport Corridor

Subramaniam Jaishankar fueled Yerevan’s optimism by proposing to make the port of Chabahar a part of the North-South transport corridor and take part in its construction and further operation.

It should be noted that the Pakistani port of Gwadara is located 200 kilometers from the Iranian Chabahar, which, as part of the Chinese Belt and Road initiative, is reaching its design capacity.

Since the visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of India was rather unexpected, let us inform you that Armenia, or rather Armenians with India, have long-standing ties, the Armenians controlled the market of precious stones and metals, enjoyed the right of duty-free trade, as during the time of Catherine II in Russia. Today in Yerevan one can meet a large number of Indian students studying at Armenian universities, mainly at the medical university. Indian students come to study in Armenia with pleasure, because for them the ratio of “quality education” and an acceptable price is ideal here.

Armenia-India relations in the international arena have been marked by serious support. In 2008, India for the first time openly took the position of Armenia, rejecting at a meeting of the UN General Assembly the resolution proposed by Azerbaijan, recognizing “NKR” as an Armenian-occupied territory. Indian diplomats do not avoid using the phrase “Armenian genocide” in official statements and documents. During the 44-day war, the Indian media supported Armenia. The India Today newspaper wrote; “If the Armenians fail to stop the pro-Turkish mercenaries who have arrived in Karabakh, tomorrow they may end up in arms in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.” In May of this year, India officially condemned Azerbaijan’s aggression against Nagorno-Karabakh ..

It is safe to say that India views Armenia as a strategic partner in the South Caucasus against the alliance of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Pakistan. And India is ready, together with Iran, to help her resist the pressure and threats of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Pakistan.

By joining efforts, Russia, India, Iran and Armenia can completely cancel out Turkey’s ambitious plans to reunite the Turkic states and create the Great Turan, on the way of which the Armenian region of Syunik stands.

By Edward Sakhinov

Russia, China & India – Working together in Afghanistan

By Pranay Sharma

While world leaders debate whether or not to engage with the Taliban-led leadership in Afghanistan and how, Russia seeks to reassure its longtime partner India that New Delhi’s perspective matters.

Just recently Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. To assess the situation in Afghanistan. The leaders agreed to create a joint group of representatives of the foreign policy departments and the national security sphere.

Russia appears to be in no hurry to recognize the Taliban *. Moscow will share its assessment of the situation with New Delhi as soon as it is held.

The capture of Kabul by the Taliban opened the way for Russia and China to expand their influence in South and Central Asia. Both countries, as well as Qatar, which maintains good relations with Taliban political leaders, have not closed their embassies in the Afghan capital, while the United States and its allies, as well as India, hastily seek to evacuate their staff.

New Delhi’s influence on the Taliban is small, given India’s deep suspicions of an Islamist group, which it accuses of harboring militants who carried out attacks in Kashmir, which it controls, with the encouragement of the country’s nemesis, Pakistan.

Earlier this month, Russia convened an “enlarged three” meeting in Doha with the US, China and Pakistan to discuss the future of Afghanistan, but India was not invited.

The Taliban owe nobody for their victory

“Everyone is rushing about right now, trying to figure out how to protect their interests,” says PS Raghavan, former chairman of India’s National Security Advisory Council. However, according to him, it is not easier for Moscow and Beijing to deal with the Taliban. Although both countries supported the US withdrawal, he adds, “The Taliban owe neither China nor Russia for their victory.”

Indeed, while China has offered to help rebuild Afghanistan, it is concerned that extremism will spread to Xinjiang, the country’s northernmost province. On Wednesday, Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping held a telephone conversation to discuss the security situation. Xi told Putin that Beijing is willing to work with other countries, including Russia, to push all parties in Afghanistan to create an inclusive political structure cut off from terrorist groups.

Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, believes that Russia views China and India as its two main strategic partners. India and Russia define their ties as a “special and privileged strategic partnership” and meet regularly to engage in trade, energy, science, technology and culture.

However, Indian observers also point to Moscow’s warmer relations with Beijing as a source of concern for New Delhi. Last year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov characterized the Quadripartite Security Dialogue (Quad), which includes the US, India, Australia and Japan, as “anti-Chinese” and called it an American ploy to shield New Delhi from Moscow’s influence. Then Indian observers noted that he was silent about the threat that China poses to India, because these countries are involved in a border dispute.

In the modern world, there is no exclusivity in relations

“In the modern world, there is no exclusivity in relations. We can talk about Russia and China, and they will talk about India and the United States, ”says Raghavan, who served as ambassador to Russia in 2014-2016. India, he adds, will have to control bilateral relations in such a way that they do not affect the core interests of other relations.

New Delhi’s concerns about Moscow’s commitment to their partnership increased when Russia took part in a large-scale joint military exercise with China in the Ningxia region earlier this month, using Su-30SM fighters, motorized rifle formations and air defense systems.

This move has caused bewilderment in Delhi, and not only because Moscow is the main supplier of military equipment for India and provides 55% of its military needs. The joint exercises took place against the backdrop of a year-long military clash between China and India in Ladakh.

Deependra Singh Hooda, a retired lieutenant general and former chief of the Indian Army’s Northern Command, said the joint exercise was “intended for the United States, not India.” In his opinion, fears that China will learn about India’s military equipment are unfounded, since most of the equipment supplied by Russia is the same for both sides. “It is wrong to feel oppressed by such teachings,” added Huda.

Moscow tried to facilitate dialogue between Dely and Beijing

Kanwal Sibal, a former Indian foreign secretary who served as Indian ambassador to Moscow from 2004-2007, says Russia has been supplying advanced military equipment to China for many years and has also conducted military exercises with Pakistan. Joint exercises are also conducted within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s security group, in addition, Russia has conducted naval exercises with China in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. As noted by Sibal, Russia also conducts annual military exercises with India. “There is no reason to be particularly worried about these joint military exercises,” he adds.

According to the head of the Carnegie Trenin Moscow Center, Moscow also tried to facilitate dialogue between Delhi and Beijing last year, but the Ladakh dispute is a sovereign issue between the two countries. “Russia will never unite with China against India, it is a completely reliable partner of India,” he said.

According to former national security adviser Raghavan, a guaranteed supply of spare parts for military equipment is better than joint exercises. When China wanted Russia to suspend supplies to India during a border clash, he said, Moscow calmly signaled that it would continue its supplies.

Unlike the Cold War era, Trenin says, India-Russia relations are not exclusive, as India has moved closer to the United States in recent years, which sees Russia as a rival and imposes sanctions on it. India took part in joint naval exercises with the United States as part of the Quad, he said, and while Russia may not like it, it did not question New Delhi’s right to choose partners. “In the changing geopolitical and strategic environment of the 21st century, Moscow and Delhi need to learn to develop their valuable strategic partnership in a non-exclusive manner,” Trenin said.

Most of India’s military equipment is of Russian origin

According to the Washington-based Stimson Center, 86 percent of India’s military equipment, weapons and platforms are of Russian origin, from aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines to tanks deployed in Ladakh. The Su-30MKI fighter, the backbone of the Indian Air Force, is also of Russian origin, while the Indian supersonic cruise missile BrahMos, capable of carrying a nuclear charge, was developed with Russia.

The US is also supplying India with military equipment, such as Apache and Chinook helicopters and M777 howitzers deployed in Ladakh, as well as Boeing C-17 and C-130J aircraft, which provide the Indian Air Force with strategic airlift capability. The US-made P81 anti-submarine aircraft is also popular with the Indian Navy.

According to the Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), India was the second largest arms importer in the world in 2015-2019. Although New Delhi has diversified its defense sources, making Israel and France the main suppliers as well, Russia remains at the top of the list.

According to the SIPRI database, since 2014, Russia has sold $ 9.3 billion worth of defense materials, and the United States received $ 2.3 billion for similar goods over the same period. Since 2000, deliveries from Russia have accounted for more than two-thirds of India’s total $ 51 billion defense imports.

According to Trenin, Russia does not have a monopoly on the sale of military equipment to India, and New Delhi has been diversifying its defense imports for many years. “However, a defense relationship is a matter of mutual trust, like treating a friend you can trust in times of crisis,” he said.

Taliban threatened Central Asia with friendship

The Taliban movement (banned in Russia) seeks to establish contacts with its northern neighbors – the republics of Central Asia

Uzbekistan was chosen first. The Taliban send congratulations to Tashkent, offer to revive the railway project and promise to support the “partners”. Will Uzbekistan become the first of the former Soviet republics to cooperate with the Islamic Emirate?

On Monday, representatives of the Taliban movement (banned in Russia as terrorist) once again  announced  the end of the war in Afghanistan. Although the resistance to the Taliban in Panjshir may  not be  completely suppressed , the radicals entrenched in Kabul demonstrate that the Taliban Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is transitioning to a peaceful life and is ready to build ties with its neighbors – if not political, then at least economic. Last Wednesday, the Taliban sent congratulations to the Uzbek Foreign Ministry   on the 30th anniversary of the republic’s independence. But the matter was not limited to protocol phrases.

A spokesman for the Taliban’s political office, Mohammad Suheil Shahin, confirmed the new regime’s interest in continuing infrastructure projects. According to Shahin’s statement, the Taliban are interested in two cross-border projects. Both were discussed as recently as July during a meeting between Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. But the latter, as you know, lost power and fled – and the Taliban inherited interstate initiatives.

The first project is the construction of a power line from the Uzbek Surkhan to the Afghan Puli-Khumri. It is known that Afghanistan depends on the supply of electricity from Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The project of the power transmission line “Surkhan – Puli-Khumri” is obviously beneficial for the Uzbek side. The line with a length of two hundred kilometers and a cost of about $ 110 million should increase the export of electricity from Uzbekistan by 70%.

The second project is the continuation of the railway from Tashkent to the Uzbek border town of Termez. The highway is planned to be extended through Afghan Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul to Pakistani Peshawar. The appearance of such a railway (provided that transportation and travel along it are safe) will mean the access of the Central Asian countries to Pakistani and Indian ocean ports.

Promise to “Uzbek partners”

Taliban spokesman Shahin assures that his associates, who have taken power in Afghanistan, will support the “Uzbek partners” in their endeavors. But judging by the actions of the Uzbek authorities, Tashkent is in no hurry to establish contacts with neighbors “across the river” (as the border between the republics of Central Asia and Afghanistan, passing along the Amu Darya and Pyanj rivers, was called in the past). The latest initiatives of the republic’s authorities are more likely associated with an attempt to protect themselves from the new masters of Kabul.

In early August, at a time when the Taliban were rapidly moving towards victory, the Uzbek army for the first time in a long time held joint exercises with the military from the countries of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) – from Russia and Tajikistan.

On the one hand, Uzbekistan is likely to agree to continue the implementation of beneficial infrastructure projects, because “it has a desire to enter South Asia, Pakistan,” said the Kyrgyz political scientist Mars Sariev. “Pakistan, which traditionally has a very strong influence on the Taliban, also welcomes the position of Uzbekistan in this regard,” the expert noted.

“On the other hand, it should be noted that the strengthening of Pakistan’s influence on Afghanistan means the strengthening of the pro-Pakistani and at the same time the most radical Taliban faction – the Haqqani Network,” Sariev said. And this cannot but worry the republics of Central Asia, the expert said. According to experts, some factions of the Taliban will fight against IS * and its “branches”, but Central Asia fears further chaos in Afghanistan after the flight of the Americans.

Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan

Recall that Afghanistan for a long time – in the 1990s and at least before the start of the American operation in this country – was the base for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU, banned in Russia), which participated in the civil war in Tajikistan, staged terrorist attacks in Kyrgyz cities, and in 1999 organized the invasion of jihadists through Tajikistan into southern Kyrgyzstan. On the basis of the IMU, the “Islamic Movement of Turkestan” was created (banned in the Russian Federation), which indicates the expansion of the claims of this terrorist group. In 2014, the IMU swore allegiance to the Islamic State *.

Recall that Russian President Vladimir Putin in his speech at the Eastern Economic Forum noted that in the event of disintegration in Afghanistan “there will be no one to talk to.”

“And the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (banned in the Russian Federation), and what is there only in the territory of today’s Afghanistan, and all this threatens our allies and neighbors,

– pointed out the Russian leader. “And if you keep in mind that we have no visa restrictions, free movement actually across borders, this is very important for us, for Russia, from the point of view of ensuring our security.”

The recent participation of the Armed Forces of Uzbekistan for the first time in a long time in joint exercises with the military from the CSTO countries – Russia and Tajikistan – was dictated not by an attempt to demonstrate strength, but by the desire to prepare for a potential attack by the Islamic Movement of Turkestan, which has always looked in the direction of Uzbekistan. the newspaper VZGLYAD Chairman of the State Duma Committee on CIS Affairs Leonid Kalashnikov.

Tashkent is afraid not only of the Taliban

“Tashkent is afraid not only of the Taliban,” the deputy stressed. There are other Afghan groups that are ready to conduct military operations against Uzbekistan on its territory if they are loyally treated in Afghanistan itself. Therefore, Uzbekistan wants to deepen military cooperation with such serious allies as Russia and Kazakhstan. He needs to interact with us and to supply military equipment by Russia, ”the deputy explained.

It is not surprising that now Tashkent remembered the role of the CSTO in protecting Central Asia from threats from the south. The Collective Security Treaty was signed in 1992 in Tashkent, but since the late 90s Uzbekistan has preferred to participate in the pro-Western GUAM union, rather than in the “pro-Russian” CSTO. But against the backdrop of the situation in Afghanistan, Tashkent may return to the status of a full member of the organization, Andrei Grozin, head of the Central Asia and Kazakhstan Department of the Institute of CIS Countries , suggested in a comment to the Sputnik Tajikistan news agency in July . The return of the republic to the CSTO would strengthen this military alliance – given that Uzbekistan spends the most on equipping and rearming its 70,000-strong army in the Central Asian region (up to 4% of GDP goes to defense spending).

Since Uzbekistan is also concerned about the vulnerability of the southern border, Tashkent will step up cooperation with Moscow through the CSTO, Sariev predicts. True, the official entry of the republic into the military-political structure should not be expected, since this is impeded by the restrictions prescribed in Uzbek legislation, the expert added. But we note that no confirmed reports of Uzbekistan’s plans to return to the “pro-Russian” CSTO have yet been received.

Tashkent is not interested in a quarrel with Kabul

On the contrary, at the end of August, official Tashkent took a step that could be interpreted as not entirely friendly towards Moscow (and, possibly, friendly towards Kabul).  

President Mirziyoyev officially declared 115 members of the Basmach movement, who were repressed in the 1920s and 1930s, to be fighters for national independence. Among them – the major leader of the Basmachi Kurbashi Ibrahim-bek, who attacked the Soviet republics of Central Asia just from the territory of Afghanistan, was captured by the OGPU in 1931 and shot. “The decision of Uzbekistan to rehabilitate the Basmachi who fought with the Bolsheviks in the 1920s is anti-Soviet and partly, of course, anti-Russian,” said Vladimir Lepekhin, director of the EurAsEC Institute.

According to Central Asian experts, Tashkent is now at least not interested in a quarrel with the new authorities in Kabul. For example, on August 31, the American  Wall Street Journal  reported that the authorities of Uzbekistan, to whose territory a group of Afghan military pilots fled, are asking the United States to take these pilots to third countries as soon as possible in order to avoid confrontation with the Taliban movement.

Uzbekistan is placed in conditions under which it is forced to take care of both protection from the Taliban and building relations with them in order to maintain its own benefit, experts say. Sariev believes that it is not Uzbekistan that is now in the most vulnerable position, but Tajikistan, given that Tajik President Emomali Rahmon in the early 2000s supported the forces of the leader of the Afghan Northern Alliance, Ahmad Shah Massoud, an ethnic Tajik.

“The Taliban can now close their eyes to the fact that Islamist groups, militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, ISIS * and Al-Qaeda (banned in Russia) will begin to infiltrate Tajikistan,” the Kyrgyz expert said.

Tajikistan cannot afford to try multi-vector game

Thus, Tajikistan, as a country that has staked on a losing force in Afghanistan and as a country bound by the CSTO obligations, cannot afford to try the multi-vector game, which is being played by neighboring Uzbekistan. But, according to Lepekhin, at present the former Soviet republics in Asia have no choice but to demonstrate their loyalty to the Taliban. “A big game is beginning: not only Uzbekistan, but any other Central Asian republic will be forced to cooperate with the Taliban,” the expert said.