Staunton, March 31 – Four days ago, the foreign ministers of Iran and China signed an agreement setting the terms for cooperation over the next 25 years. Western outlets focused on the way in which this undermines sanctions on Iran, and Russian ones on the way it supposedly presages the formation of an Iranian-Chinese-Russia alliance.
While the complete text of the accord has not been published, it is already clear that the agreement between Tehran and Baku will pose serious challenges for Russia especially in the Caspian region but more generally as well, something Moscow analysts are beginning to reflect upon (casp-geo.ru/kompleksnaya-programma-sotrudnichestva-mezhdu-iranom-i-kitaem-i-eyo-vliyanie-na-kaspijskuyu-geopolitiku/).
Among the provisions which have been reported are five that will have anything but a positive impact on Russia:
· Bilateral military cooperation, something that will reduce Iranian purchases of and reliance on Russian arms exports;
· The export of Iranian oil to China, thus reducing Chinese demand for that hydrocarbon;
· The completion of the east-west Iranian railroad, something that will expand Iranian influence in neighboring countries at Russia’s expense and may delay the completion of the north-south route Russia wants.
· A series of long-term investment programs that will shift Tehran from the need to seek help from Moscow and thus reduce Moscow’s leverage on Iran;
· And an agreement to cooperate in regional and international bodies, thus reducing Russia’s ability to affect Iran in those spheres as well.
Vlad Kondratyev of Kaspiisky vestnik observes that these and other provisions of the bilateral accord will have an impact on the Caspian region, opening the way for an expansion of both Iranian and Chinese influence not only in the southern part of that area but also to the east and thus, he concludes, it will “inevitably lead to certain changes in the geopolitical situation in the Caspian region.”
At least some of these are certain not to be to Russia’s liking. Iran will be able to act more independently of Russia and China will have a larger role in defining the future of what Moscow has always viewed as a Russian lake and the littoral states both east and west of the Caspian Sea.
And those changes may be just as important over the longer term than the ones Western commentators fear and Russian ones hope for regarding other aspects of the Chinese-Iranian rapprochement, a coming together over the last five years that has now been crowned by a commitment to partnership over 25.