Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Russia’s Arctic Militarization: Words Versus Actions

By Alden Wahlstrom

Russia has no plans to militarize the Arctic. At least, that is a according to Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister charged with overseeing Russia’s defense industry. Speaking in St. Petersburg, on December 7, at the opening of the forum “Arctic: Today and the Future,” Rogozin emphasized that Russia’s rebuilding of military infrastructure in the Arctic is focused on creating the conditions necessary for Russians to live and work peacefully in the region (Kommersant, December 8, 2015). Just two days after this, however, Russia announced the opening of a major new military installation on the archipelago of Novaya Zemlya.

The Novaya Zemlya facility is home to the first full regiment of Russia’s Northern Fleet located on Russia’s Arctic islands. Previously, deployments had been limited to smaller individual units. Its primary role is to secure Russian airspace on the country’s northern borders. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, modernized S-300 surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems have been deployed to Novaya Zemlya to achieve this. These systems, which have been modified to be able to work in Arctic conditions, are capable of intercepting aircraft and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) within a 400-kilometer perimeter around the site (Mil.ru, December 9, 10, 2015; TVRain.ru, December 9, 2015). This marks a return of anti-aircraft/anti-ballistic missile capabilities to Novaya Zemlya, last present on the island in the early 1990s (Interfax, December 12, 2015).

In addition to the S-300s, the installation on Novaya Zemlya is reportedly outfitted with weapons systems to defend from both air and sea attack. The Pantsir-S1 (NATO name: SA-22 “Greyhound”) is a combination weapons system that includes short- to medium-range surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery. This system is capable of engaging aircraft and missiles flying at lower altitudes and has a 20 km range, providing air defense for the area immediately surrounding the installation. Likewise, the Bastion-P Costal Defense System (NATO name: SSC-5) is capable of defending the area from surface-level ships. This system uses Oniks supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles (NATO name: SS-N-26 “Strobile”; also known as the “Yakhont” in export markets). Traveling at a speed of Mach 2.5, these missiles have a range of 120–300 km and are capable of engaging various surfaces ships, carrier battle groups, convoys and landing crafts. Beyond providing for the general defense of the installation on Novaya Zemlya, the range of the Oniks missiles allows the Russians to create a choke point, preventing the passage of ships from the Barents Sea to the Pechora Sea and onward along the Northern Sea Route.

Further evidence of Russia’s push to establish its presence in the Arctic can be seen in both the organization of the Russian military and in official doctrine. In late December 2014, Russia’s Northern Fleet left the Western Military District to form the foundation of the newly created Arctic Joint Strategic Command. Although it does not have the title of a military district, the Arctic Joint Strategic Command is functionally a fifth military district responsible for securing Russia’s entire northern border and the Arctic. This structural reorganization, which is representative of the priority that the Kremlin is placing on the Arctic, was intended to centralize responsibility for the administration of this zone within the Russian military. Prior to this, these responsibilities were spread across the Western, Central, and Eastern military districts and the Northern and Pacific Fleets (TopWar.ru, September 15, 2014). The hope is that this restructuring will allow for the more efficient and effective administration of Russia’s growing military resources in the Arctic.

This structural reorganization came in the lead-up to the Russian government’s release of its new maritime doctrine this past August (see EDM, August 11, 2015). The Kremlin’s Arctic ambitions are reflected in the document, which dedicates a whole section to the region. At a glance, establishing firm control over its northern borders and the nearby Arctic zone is important to Russia for two reasons: 1) ensuring the passage of its Northern Fleet to the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and 2) safeguarding Russia’s access to the abundant oil and gas resources in the area. Russia’s new Maritime Doctrine clearly articulates both of these points. However, the doctrine also dedicates significant attention to the increase of Russian military activity in the Arctic and specifies that one of Moscow’s goals is to restrict foreign military activity in the area (Kremlin.ru, July 26, 2015). Russia’s opening of the military installation on Novaya Zemlya is a major step toward establishing the regional capabilities that will make these goals a reality.

The opening of the new Russian military installation on Novaya Zemlya is all the more notable when contextualized with Russia’s other activities in the Arctic. In conjunction with Rogozin’s aforementioned proclamation, the opening of a new S-400 site in Tiksi, Sakha Republic, was also announced (Kommersant, December 8, 2015). Furthermore, Russia has built five other military bases on its Arctic islands (New Siberian Islands, Alexandra Land, Severnaya Zemlya, Cape Schmidt, and Wrangle Island) and began construction of over 440 military infrastructure projects that were due to be completed by the end of 2015. Future projects include the construction of a major airbase that is due to be completed by 2017 (Kommersant, December 8, 2015).

As a part of a larger network of new and reopened Russian military installations in the Arctic, the base on Novaya Zemlya is the Russian military’s largest unveiling in the region thus far. The weapons systems deployed there give it firm control over the Western end of the Northern Sea Route, as it exists along Russia’s borders. Continued development in the region promises to increase Russia’s capabilities and extend this level of control across Russia’s entire expansive northern border. Russian officials, like Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin, continuously emphasize that their goal is only to maintain stability and security in the region so that life in Russia’s northernmost regions can develop peacefully and its people can prosper from the resource wealth of the area. Nevertheless, the reality remains that Russia is rapidly changing the facts on the ground in the Arctic. While Moscow claims it is not trying to militarize the High North, Russia’s rapidly expanding military presence in the Arctic increases the possibility for conflict as other countries begin to assert their interests in the region. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Signs of Coming Civil Strife in Trans-Baikal Region?

By Richard Arnold

The Trans-Baikal Region is not generally known for its contentious politics or social disharmonies. But a recent open letter from the Public Chamber of the region to the Russian Orthodox Metropolitan of Chita suggests one could be in the offing.

On December 30, the Trans-Baikal Public Chamber—an organization created in 2010 to resolve social and political problems and defend civil rights in the region—addressed a letter to the head of the city of Chita’s Orthodox Church, criticizing the suggested transfer to the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) of a building now housing a museum dedicated to the 19th century “Decembrist” movement. The open letter stated that “the mere posing of the question to transfer the building to the ROC has become one of the most talked-about in the region, caused a wave of indignation, and actually promised to split the society, threatening to develop into civic strife… the pretensions of the Chita Metropolitan might become the start of a dangerous split in a territory marked by peace, stability, and unity in the Trans-Baikal region of which we are proud. We reckon that today it would be a sign of positive historical memory, a sign of respect for people-patriots of Russia, local pride in our region as a place of kindness and knowledge, for the securing of social unity and peace, to preserve the Decembrist museum in its present form” (Sova-center.ru, December 30, 2015).

The museum commemorating the Decembrists was opened in 1985 in Chita, the location of the first cooperative community they had organized in the region. The Decembrists were originally a group of liberal officers from the Russian army who were encouraged by the reforms of Tsar Alexander I to demand further change and modernization in their society. The group was made famous in the 1825 revolutionary uprising against Tsar Nicholas I, an event interpreted by some observers after the fall of Communism as proof of Russia’s democratic heritage and aptitude for democracy.

At the Christmas session of the local legislature in Chita, Metropolitan Vladimir petitioned for the transfer of the building used to house the Decembrist museum to the ROC. Deputy Roman Shcherbakov supported the transfer, as did the leader of the Zabaikalsky Cossacks, Ataman Gennadi Chupin. Similarly, the consul of the Australian branch of the Zabaikalsky Cossacks called on his followers to mobilize in defense of the church of the Archangel Michael. Activists from the regional branch of the Russian Union of Architects have opposed the conversion of the building into a church; and regional authorities recently prohibited the construction of a church on the site of a local sports stadium. Reportedly, the activists have also contested the claims of Chita’s 140-year-old Cossack organization to a building dating back some 300 years (Chita.ru, December 30). It remains to be seen how the issue will resolve itself, but the contest is a microcosm of one of the larger social debates in Russia today.

The debate over whether Russian national identity is an ethnic or civic category—the Russki/ Rossianie debate—has been in existence since the fall of the Soviet Union (Valery Tishkov, “Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Conflict After the Soviet Union: The Mind Aflame,” 1997). The Decembrists are a symbol of a liberal, civic, and inclusive sense of Russian national identity; the ROC’s attempt to impose control over sites of popular memory symbolizes a conservative, ethnic, and exclusive sense. Some analysts have claimed that this debate is behind the spate of race riots in Russian cities over the past several years, including the 2010 riots on Moscow’s Manezh Square (see EDM, March 5, 2014; Vera Tolz and Steven Hutchings, Nation, Race, and Ethnicity on Russian Television, 2015) as well as calls to establish a segregationist regime with the North Caucasus. Debates over Russian national identity—and the need to undermine the appeal of ethnic-Russian nationalists by assuming elements of their agenda—are also behind Russia’s annexation of Crimea as well as the Kremlin championing the interests of ethnic Russians in Donbas (see EDM, October 23, 2015). Therefore, if not handled tactfully by the authorities, the fate of a relatively minor museum in a remote Russian province could boil over into the kind of social conflict warned about by the Trans-Baikal public chamber.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Is the Islamic State a Threat to the Security of the Republic of Georgia?

By George Tsereteli

On November 29, authorities in Tbilisi, Georgia, arrested four people accused of being connected to the Islamic State (IS) organization. Weapons, explosive devices, IS flags, and Islamist literature on CDs and DVDs were found in the suspects’ apartments (Civil Georgia, December 1). The Georgian State Security Service announced an investigation into whether other individuals are involved in IS-related activities on Georgian soil. Interestingly, the four individuals were from the Guria region, and not from the Pankisi gorge, which has in the past been a source of Islamic extremism (Interpressnews, December 1). The suspects denied the charges against them, although two of them had allegedly appeared in a Georgian-language IS propaganda video released on November 23. In this video, they call on Georgian Muslims to join the “Islamic Caliphate” and issue threats against “Georgia’s infidels” (The Clarion Project, November 25). The video also mentions that Georgia has been fighting against Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq, conflicts in which Georgia contributed significant troop numbers to coalition military efforts. The release of the propaganda video suggests that the Islamic State’s ideology has now spread, at least in some small part, to Georgia’s capital city.

In an interview that aired on December 7, regional expert Mamuka Areshidze contended  that various organizations—which are either affiliated with the Islamic State or wish to be—are working to build an ideological base and foundation in Georgia and thereby gain influence. Those who fall under this influence are taught Salafi-jihadist ideology and are radicalized from a young age (Maestro, December 7). This is the case not only in the Pankisi gorge, but other regions such as Adjaria and Guria, where there are sizeable Muslim populations, and even in Tbilisi. Areshidze went on to explain that according to IS ideology, Georgia is located within the self-declared Caliphate’s territory; thus, when the group decides to move into the region, it will want a loyal segment of the population already in place, ready to welcome it.

However, not everyone believes that the Islamic State poses a serious threat to Georgia at this time. A few days after the November 13 attacks on Paris, the deputy head of Georgia’s State Security Service, Levan Izoria, stated that Georgia is not among the countries with a high risk of terrorist attacks, since it is not involved in the anti-IS air strikes carried out by the United States and its coalition allies (Civil Georgia, November 17). Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli echoed this sentiment when she announced that although additional safety and confidence measures would be taken, such as heightened security at airports and along the border, this would be done as a precaution and not in response to any immediate threat (Civil Georgia, November 18).

One must remember, however, that the Islamic State’s ideology and actions are not driven solely by recent or contemporary developments; indeed, the argument that Georgia falls within the so-called “Caliphate’s” territory is based on a historical precedent dating back to the ninth century. Therefore, the fact that Georgia is not involved in international coalition airstrikes against the IS in Syria and Iraq does not preclude the possibility of future terrorist attacks on Georgian soil by this extremist militant group.
Georgia is most likely not high on the current list of priority targets for the Islamic State. And yet, the above-mentioned recent arrests, the appearance of the Georgian-language propaganda video, as well as the presence of IS recruiters in the Pankisi gorge (see Jamestown Blog, June 22) indicate that a mobilization of Georgia’s defense, security and information channels may in fact be necessary.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Armenia and Serbia Pledge Military Cooperation

By Erik Davtyan

On November 24, the Defense Minister of Serbia Bratislav Gašić arrived in Yerevan for a two-day official visit. Interestingly, as the minister himself mentioned, this was the first such trip to Armenia by a Serbian minister of defense. Minister Gašić met with Armenian Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan, who stressed that “recent years’ reciprocated official visits and meetings have gone a long way toward intensifying the political dialogue between the two countries, improving the legal framework and deepening the ongoing cooperation within international organizations.” As to possible areas of defense cooperation, both officials underlined the importance of sharing their experiences in the fields of military medicine, military education and interaction within the framework of international peacekeeping forces (Gov.am, November 24).

On November 25, Minister Gašić met with his Armenian counterpart, Seyran Ohanyan. After the two delegations discussed issues of bilateral, regional and international importance, the Serbian and Armenian defense ministers signed a declaration on cooperation in the field of defense (Mil.am, November 25). According to the declaration, the bilateral defense cooperation treaty, when ultimately signed, will cover areas like defense and security policy, military-economic cooperation, peacekeeping missions, military scientific/technical cooperation, military education and training, military medicine, and so on (Razm.info, November 25).

Though this was only the first step toward establishing Serbian-Armenian military ties, the signing of the declaration opens a new chapter in Armenia’s international military cooperation. First, the treaty will embrace a wide span of areas of defense cooperation, thus contributing to the more extensive development of bilateral relations with this key Balkan country. In a wider context, Armenia will be expanding the geographic scope of its global military partnerships. To date, Armenia has regularly cooperated with Russia, Greece, the United States, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); moreover, it actively participates in a number of international peacekeeping missions.

Armenian-Serbian defense cooperation will be an impetus for further rapprochement between the two states. On November 25, the Serbian defense minister was also received by the President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan. The Armenian head of state welcomed the bilateral initiatives in the military field and said that “the Armenian people attached great importance to the presence of Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić at the events dedicated to the centennial of the Armenian Genocide [on April 24, 2015],” describing Nikolić’s gesture as “a unique display of friendship and solidarity that the Armenian nation will always remember and appreciate” (President.am, November 25).


During his visit to Yerevan, Minister Gašić also had meetings with Minister of Foreign Affairs Edward Nalbandian and His Holiness Garegin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, as well as the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly (NA) of Armenia Hermine Naghdalyan. The NA deputy speaker emphasized the development of inter-parliamentary relations, noting a necessity for greater cooperation in this sphere. In particular, she has highlighted the active cooperation of the Friendship Groups in the parliaments of the two countries (Parliament.am, November 26). It will now be up to the mid-level bureaucrats in both governments to turn these pledges and high expectations into concrete policy actions.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Rising Discrimination Accelerates Ethnic Sorting out of Central Asia

By Paul Goble

None of the five republics in Central Asia were ever ethnically homogeneous. Joseph Stalin, in fact, purposefully drew their borders so that there would always be a local minority that he could use against the ethnic majority, either as his agents in place or as a target on which to shift the anger of the majority away from Moscow. Since 1991, however, all five republics have become far more ethnically homogeneous. This has largely been the result of people fleeing countries where they had, often, lived for many years due to violence or the fear of violence and moving to neighboring states where they are members of the titular nationality.

That process had slowed in the early 2000s, but now there is evidence that it is accelerating again, not because of violence or fear thereof, but rather because of increasing ethnic hostility by ethnic majorities directed against minority groups as well as discrimination against the latter in the workplace and more generally.  And what is worrisome is that xenophobic attitudes among the titular majority nationalities appear to be far stronger among young people than among their parents, who grew up in Soviet times when “internationalism” was highly valued.

The attitudes of the majorities and the experiences of the fleeing minorities will make it far more difficult for the governments in the region to deal with one another, and far more likely that at least some politicians will exploit these ethnic hostilities to the point that border conflicts in this already tense and unstable region will become ever more likely.

Recently illustrative of this wider trend has been the flight of ethnic Kyrgyz from the Dzhirgatal district of Tajikistan. Many Kyrgyz fled the region in the 1990s because of civil war. But the current exodus, which has reduced this minority’s share of the region’s population by an additional 50 percent, is reported by those Kyrgyz still living in the region to be due to “discrimination on an ethnic and racial basis.” And they add that younger ethnic Tajiks are far more likely to display anti-Kyrgyz attitudes than the older generation, which was born and grew up in Soviet times (Centrasia.ru, November 13).

Local officials play down the problem and say that the departure of anyone from their region is entirely voluntary, the result of personal social and economic problems of kinds found everywhere.  But local Kyrgyz residents dispute this, pointing to frequent discrimination against them. At least a third of them say that they hope to leave once they save up enough money to do so and find a place in Kyrgyzstan to move to.

One Kyrgyz resident of Dzhirgatal told a CentrAsia journalist that he could not find work “only because he is a Kyrgyz,” adding that his patience with the situation was running out.  Another Kyrgyz there, a taxi driver, said he and other members of his nation faced discrimination of both an open and a concealed kind; they feel they are being forced out, despite what the authorities say. And many local Kyrgyz say that “discrimination is especially developed” among young Tajiks. “The older generation,” they say, “is more loyal to one another” (Centrasia.ru, November 13).

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Russia Moves to Open Six Top Secret ‘Closed Cities,’ Citing Budgetary Reasons

By Alden Wahlstrom

The Russian government recently announced a plan to open up 6 of its 42 publicly identified closed cities (officially named closed administrative-territorial formations), as of January 1, 2016 (Tvrain.ru, October 30). Closed cities, a carryover institution from the Soviet Union, are home to military installations; facilities used for the development, production, or storage and disposal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD); and other facilities considered central to Russian national security (Interfax, October 23). During the Soviet era, these cities were given code names and did not appear on official maps. In their current manifestation, many of these cities have been identified and have been permitted to resume using the historical names they held prior to their closure. However, entry into these cities is still strictly regulated, even for Russian citizens.

Making the list of cities to be opened starting next year are: Seversk (Tomsk Oblast), Zelenogorsk (Krasnoyarsk Krai), Novouralsk (Sverdlovsk Oblast), Zarechny (Penza Oblast), Zvyozdny Village (Permsky Krai), and Lokomotivny village (Chelyabinky Oblast). These cities are home to over 350,000 people and are situated across the entire expanse of Russia (Vedomosti, October 29). Russia’s state nuclear energy corporation, Rosatom, administers the first four of these cities, and the Russian Ministry of Defense administers the remaining two (Interfax, October 23). Among the strategically sensitive things located at these heretofore closed cities are facilities for the enrichment of uranium (including the facility at Novouralsk, which is the largest of its kind in the world) and military installations dealing with missile production and housing Russian missileers (Vedomosti, October 29; Kommersant, October 30; TASS, October 28; Tvrain.ru, October 30).

According to the Ministry of Economic Development, the goal of the government’s initiative to open up these cities is linked to optimizing federal budgetary spending (Kommesrant, October 30). Despite the prolonged decline in the value of the ruble and the sizable deficit in the recently announced Russian budget, the reclassification of these cities is said to be part of a development project that has been in the works since before Russia fell into an economic downturn (BBC—Russian service, October 27). Closed cities present unique challenges to economic development. The strict control over what and who is allowed to enter these cities restricts the flow of resources necessary to stimulate organic economic development. As a result, large subsidies from the federal budget have been necessarily allocated to supplement the budgets of closed cities.

What motivated the Russian government to start this process? Even if transitioning these cities had long been discussed, announcing these initiatives with only a two-month lead time before implementation is quite sudden. According to the plan, there will only be a nine-month transition period for the cities, starting on the first of the year (Interfax, October 23). Critics in the varying regional governments and within Rosatom are likely considering this when it says that the move to reclassify these cities is too fast and that more discussion is required to plan their smooth transition. To put this in perspective, Seversk, the largest of Russia’s closed cities, will instantly lose 900 million rubles of its 3.8 billion ruble ($13.9 million out of $59 million) budget, if it loses its status as a closed city at the start of the year (Kommersant, October 30). This one cut, which only saves the Russian government about $13 million, will leave the city of Seversk scrambling to find the resources necessary to continue to provide services to its 120,000 residents after losing almost one quarter of its budget, with little advanced notice.

The announcement of the plan has already been met with broad pushback. Many residents prefer that their city remains closed to the rest of Russia. In their measure, the positive externalities of living in closed cities outweigh the negative ones. The tight control over movement in and out of these cities provides residents with an increased sense of security. One city official from a closed city not slated for this round of status changes described closed cities as places where residents do not lock there doors and children can safely walk to school unaccompanied (Tvrain.ru, October 30). Moreover, government subsidies allows these cities to provide a level of benefits to the residents of these cities that would otherwise not be possible. Residents speaking out against the government’s plan are motivated by the fear of losing these subsidies and the standard of living they provide (Kommersant, Tvrain.ru, October 30). Given the nature of what is located within these cities, however, domestic political challenges are unlikely to either drive or redirect this process.

Russia was able to maintain its closed cities through all of the economic troubles of the 1990s. And the Russian government’s decision to maintain its current level of defense spending in its shrunken 2016 federal budget is a testament to the Kremlin’s commitment to spending on issues related to national security. For this reason, the transitioning of these cities from closed to open is particularly intriguing. In some cases, it is quite possible that the city in question may no longer be home to activities considered core to national security, or facilities in that city could perhaps easily be converted into lower-risk establishments. From a logistical standpoint, the two cities administered by the Ministry of Defense will have an easier time redistributing any top-secret resources located there. As for the cities with nuclear research activities, there is some talk of adapting these facilities to expand production into other areas—likely part of the much talked about, but thus far largely unsuccessful, plan to develop dual-use military technologies. Potential development opportunities aside, the heavy-handed decision by Russian officials to transition these cities on such a short timeline presents an opening for possible breaches of Russian national security.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Armenia and Iran After the Nuclear Deal: The Quest for Broader Cooperation

By Erik Davtyan

The agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, which Tehran reached with the P5+1 powers (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and Germany) on July 14, has provided new perspectives for Iran’s wider engagement in the South Caucasus—especially with Armenia, the only state in the region that actively promotes a close partnership with the Islamic Republic.

In August 2015, Iran and Armenia had already signed an agreement on the construction of the third high-voltage electricity transmission line connecting the two countries. This new planned electricity link will cost an estimated $120 million (Azatutyun.am, August 13). The Iranian nuclear agreement and the promised gradual lifting of sanctions apparently increased mutual interest in maintaining a more active political dialogue and reinforcing economic cooperation between Iran and Armenia. These issues were discussed during last month’s (September 17) meeting between Armenian Ambassador to Tehran Artashes Tumanyan and Iranian Minister of Industry, Mines and Trade Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh (Armenpress.am, September 18). The energy aspect of bilateral relations was discussed on October 3–5, when the Armenian delegation, headed by Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Ervand Zakharyan, visited Iran and held talks with the co-chair of the Armenian-Iranian Intergovernmental Commission, Hamid Chitchian, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zangane, and the chairman of Iran’s Export Development Bank, Ali Salehabadi (Minenergy.am, October 5).

The next and, in fact, the most important recent event (after the nuclear deal) for bilateral Iranian-Armenian relations was the official visit to Yerevan of the First Vice President of Iran Eshaq Jahangiri (October 14–15). After Iranian then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit in 2011, this is the highest-level visit to Armenia by an Iranian official. At the airport, Jahangiri was welcomed by Armenian Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan, along with the ministers of energy and natural resources, culture, and transport and communications, as well as the deputy minister of foreign affairs. Clearly, the Armenian authorities attached great importance to this official visit and expect positive developments in bilateral relations (Armenpress.am, October 14).

On October 15, Jahangiri and Abrahamyan took part in the Armenia-Iran Business Forum, which was attended by nearly 300 Armenian and 80 Iranian businessmen. Commenting on the importance of boosting trade relations, the Iranian vice president stated that “it is important for us to sign a number of memorandums of understanding, including a preferential tariff agreement” (Gov.am, October 15). As to Armenia’s transit role in Iran’s foreign policy, he underlined that “Armenia is the only country to provide a gateway for exporting Iranian goods toward the Eurasian Economic Union. Besides, Armenia has an important role to play as a transit zone. We have the North–South Transport Corridor; we should settle the railroad issue, which is of regional significance”. Vice Presdent Jahangiri also held meetings with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and the president of the Armenian National Assembly (parliament), Galust Sahakyan.

Certainly, the realization of joint economic plans highly depends on completing large-scale transport projects to more fully connect the two states. The North–South Road Corridor is already under construction; but the Iran-Armenia railway project faces financial challenges. In his interview to Azatutyun, Iranian Minister of Transport Abbas Ahmad Akhoundi said that Iran is ready to start the construction of the Iranian part of the railroad as soon as Armenia covers at least one third of the estimated cost of $3 billion for this project (Azatutyun.am, October 15). Indeed, the railway may have regional and even interregional importance; therefore, Armenia aims to attract large investments from abroad. Back in June 2015, the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) had expressed interest in this project. During the Armenian prime minister’s recent visit to China (in September), the issue of the possible engagement of Chinese companies was discussed with the premier of China’s State Council, Li Keqiang, and the chairman of the CCECC, Wu Wanliang (Panarmenian.net, September 22).


So far, no practical agreement has been reached on the Iran-Armenia railway project. Yet, following the breakthrough of the Iranian nuclear program accord, the chances of realizing this project have increased, at least in the political realm. Thus, the appeal of large-scale investments in bilateral projects will continue to grow over the coming months for both Armenia and Iran.