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Energy Relations To Dominate Ahmadinejad's Armenia Visit

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad (file photo) (epa) October 22, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad arrives in Armenia today for a two-day visit. On the agenda is a natural-gas pipeline between the two countries and other energy issues. Federico Bordonaro, a Rome-based senior analyst with the Power and Interest News Report, spoke to RFE/RL about the geopolitical implications of the growing ties between Armenia and Iran.

RFE/RL: Given the problems between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which is predominantly Shi'ite like Iran, why is Iran so eager to forge good ties with Armenia?

Federico Bordonaro: Contrary to the expectations of those who follow the theories of Samuel Huntington [the author of "The Clash of Civilizations"] we can see in this case that it is not really civilizations that drive alliances or strategic partnerships, but sheer geopolitical arrangements.

Iran does not want a very strong Azerbaijan -- first of all, because Azerbaijan is pro-United States, and second, because the Azeri minority in Iran must be checked by the Tehran central government.

RFE/RL: Ahmadinejad's visit comes shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin's trip to Tehran. Moscow also has its own interests in Armenia. Is a three-way partnership developing here?

Bordonaro: Russia finds in Armenia and Iran a kind of axis that projects Russian influence in the [Persian] Gulf. And of course, Russia has the same problem with Azerbaijan. The problem is that Azerbaijan is becoming too pro-NATO and pro-Western for Moscow.

RFE/RL: So this is part of the larger geopolitical struggle between Russia and the West for influence in the region?

Bordonaro: A Russian-Armenian-Iranian strategic partnership in terms of energy security, energy projects, and intelligence sharing is very profitable for Russia if Russia is to check the U.S. and NATO penetration in the South Caucasus. I think that the alignment that we are seeing today is dictated mainly by energy routes and by the fact that Russia and Iran find it interesting to put yet another irritant in the geo-strategy of the West. But I think it is more tactical and could be reversed.

RFE/RL: Why would it be reversed?

Bordonaro: Russia for the moment sees Iran as more of a cooperator than a competitor in Armenia. But I would say in the medium to long term, Iran is a competitor to Russia in the Caspian region. So I would not be surprised to see a reversal. I would not be surprised [if] Russia drops Iran once Russia, for example, has succeeded in negotiating something with the United States in Eastern Europe or the South Caucasus.

RFE/RL: Armenia's position here is also quite interesting since they have good relations with the United States and the West. Can you comment on that?

Bordonaro: Armenia is very interesting because it does not reason in terms of bloc against bloc. Armenia is also pro-Western, we should not forget this. There are many reasons. There are cultural reasons. There are successful Armenian diasporas in the United States and France, for example. Armenia is sympathetic to the European Union. But at the same time, Armenia is not scared by Russia and Iran in the same way that the West is. So it is a very complex and interesting situation.

RFE/RL: How does Armenia's geographic situation explain Yerevan's readiness to work so closely with Moscow and Tehran?

Bordonaro: It is a landlocked country. When you are landlocked, you need access to the sea via [another country]. This is a powerful drive in the foreign policies of landlocked countries. And Armenia has no strategic resources. It is very dependent upon Russia and Iran. This is why Armenia cannot afford to make as dramatic a pro-Western turn as Georgia or Azerbaijan.

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

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