Factors that may hinder implementation of major joint projects:
1. Economic situation in Russia
Due to the economic crisis in Russia, Russian energy companies are lacking necessary investment funds for investing in the Iranian economy.
2. Iranian legislation
Iranian legislation considerably restricts the presence of foreign capital in the oil and gas sector, which is considered public domain.
3. Iran is aspiring towards Europe
Iran uses its energy capacity in negotiations with the European Union. It will be more interested in the European companies, rather than in Russian ones. This will strengthen Iran’s position in Europe and accelerate the process of lifting sanctions against it. Besides, attraction of European companies will facilitate introduction of new high technologies in the country’s energy sphere.
4. Russian-Iranian cooperation precedent
Since the ’90s until 2006, Russian energy companies’ any attempts to invest in Iran’s oil and gas, were crowned with complete failure, and that’s a precedent.
5. Iran’s Protectionism
The EEU (Eurasian Economic Union) and Iran hardly have any prospects, since Iran pursues a protectionist economic policy. It encourages its own producers and its market.
6. Historical memory
Iran has not forgotten either the end of the 18th century, first third of the 19th century, or various stages of the 20th century. In recent decades, Iranians’ perception has deeply ingrained a belief that Russia acted wrong in the ‘Gore-Chernomyrdin deal’, breaking contracts on supplies of S-300, etc. Therefore, Iran views Russia as a country that cannot be trusted because it can let anyone down any moment.
What can change the situation:
1. Iran’s membership in WTO
Iran can become a full-fledged member of the WTO. It can follow a path of partial liberalization of its economic and trading system. Iran may become a partner of the Eurasian Union not because of Russia, but given the economic and trade relations with other countries-members of the EEU, for example, with Kazakhstan.
2. ‘The Silk Road’
There is another spectrum of interaction of the Russian-Iranian cooperation as part of the Chinese ‘Silk Road’ economic project. The cooperation in this case will be implemented in two areas: cooperation between Tehran and the EEU and participation of Iran, China and the EEU in the implementation of the general financial, transport, economic programs for ‘Silk Road’ development.
3. Geopolitical interests
Unlike energy sphere, where there are factors actually preventing Russia-Iran cooperation, from the geopolitical point of view, there is a tight accord between the two countries on a number of regional issues (Greater Middle East).
4. Security cooperation
Political agreements reached in the recent months, including those on supplies of S-300 systems to Iran, have contributed to greater coordination between Moscow and Tehran in the security area. These two countries have a number of common interests: a breakthrough over Iran’s nuclear program, in which Russia has played an important role; the prospects for Iran’s further economic and political lead out from isolation, as well as the issues related to Syria, Iraq and the ‘Islamic state.’
5. Military cooperation
Moscow and Tehran are seriously getting closer. A situational military-political alliance involving Iran, Iraq, the Assad regime and Moscow, has been formed. A clear demonstration of the aforesaid alliance was the launch of cruise missiles from the southern waters of the Caspian Sea, that passed through the airspace of Iran and Iraq.
Expansion of the Russian air and military participation in Syria is inevitable, because Russian aircrafts will need stage airfields. Iranian and Iraqi airfields can be possibly used. The use of infrastructure from the territory of Armenia, including radar and communication systems, cannot be excluded either.
What do we have at the moment:
Lifting sanctions against Iran gives the country versatile opportunities for cooperation with different countries, including Russia. However, Iran is skeptical about Russia and carefully accepts co-operation. As likely as not, Iran will exclusively make the deals that will proceed from its interests
2. Conflict of interests
One would think that lifting sanctions against Iran, which was one of the key trading partners of Russia as early as before the revolution, should meet Russia’s national interests. However, Russia, in turn, couldn’t be happy about Iran’s appearance as a strong competitor state in the region and emergence of a new major gas and oil supplier at the global market.
3. Competition in the South Caucasus region
It is less likely that there will be any Russian-Iranian joint projects in the South Caucasus region, since both states are pursuing the same goal: to increase its influence and presence in the region. In the period, when NATO was strengthening its positions and the USA’s positions were reinforced, Russia and Iran were in a certain informal unstructured union. Today, the West is gradually withdrawing from the South Caucasus, including from Azerbaijan, which for many years was considered a pillar of the western estimates. In view of the aforesaid, a competition between Russia and Iran increases.
In view of the abovementioned arguments, implementation of serious major joint projects seems unlikely, which minimizes the impact of cooperation between the two countries on the South Caucasus region.
Expert opinion expressed by: Sevak Sarukhanyan, expert on Iran, Executive Director of the Armenian Center for Society Research; Sergey Minasyan, political scientist, Deputy Director of the Caucasus Institute.