The Iranian leadership doesn’t share some of its online supporters’ misinformed economic views nor their ultra-nationalist ones, which is why Foreign Minister Abdollahian just scolded Armenia for its joint US drills instead of signaled interest to militarily intervene in that country’s support against Azerbaijan like they wanted.
Press TV reported that Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian expressed concern to his Armenian counterpart during a call on Wednesday about the presence of US military forces in that South Caucasus country. 85 American soldiers are carrying out drills there from 11-20 September, which coincides with a drastic deterioration of Russian-Armenian relations. Here are some background briefings for those who haven’t been closely following this situation:
In short, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan – who came to power after the 2018 “Velvet Revolution” – has capitulated to pressure from the ultra-nationalist French- and US-based diaspora to become the West’s newest proxy for dividing-and-ruling the region by clinging to his country’s failed irredentist crusade. Tensions predictably soared with Azerbaijan as a result of his failure to comply with the terms of the Moscow-mediated November 2020 ceasefire, which recently prompted worries about another war.
Social media accounts sympathetic to Iran’s worldview wildly speculated that the Islamic Republic might militarily intervene against Azerbaijan in Armenia’s support if another conflict breaks out. This saber-rattling thankfully abated after Foreign Minister Abdollahian spoke to his Azerbaijan counterpart on Monday and received reassurances from him that Baku doesn’t plan to attack Armenia. He then talked to Armenia’s top diplomat two days later and conveyed his displeasure with that country’s joint US drills.
The odds of Iran getting dragged into any new conflict over Karabakh therefore receded, and this couldn’t have come at a better time since Russian-Armenian relations continue to worsen. Yerevan confirmed that it’ll ratify the Rome Statute, which will legally obligate the authorities to arrest President Putin if he ever visits in spite of Armenia still nominally remaining a member of the Russian-led CSTO. Pashinyan then dropped two bombshells in an interview with Politico that was published on Wednesday.
Most of the international media headlines focused on his claim that Armenia no longer considers Russia to be a reliable guarantor of its security, but what he said about how “the EU and the United States are also supporting us when it comes to democratic reforms agenda” was equally important. These statements suggest an impending divorce between those two official allies in the coming future since Armenia is openly pivoting away from Russia towards the West on security and governance matters.
It therefore shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone that Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said during a press conference on the same day that his interview debuted that “more and more questions come up” about Armenia’s latest moves. She was specifically responding to its plans to ratify the Rome Statute, but added that “This is not merely an isolated move, which, as the Armenian side clearly understood, would raise questions from us, it is a series of connected moves”.
A day later, Chairman of the State Duma’s Committee on International Affairs Leonid Slutsky said that:
“Now Washington is ready to ‘help’ Yerevan, apparently dreaming of creating a new anti-Russian foothold in South Caucasus. But all its plans to weaken Russia are crumbling before our eyes. This is what we should remember! ‘Sponsorship’ from across the ocean has not benefited any country in the world, bringing only misery and grief, blood and destruction. And this is exactly what American-style ‘partnership’ and ‘development assistance’ eventually leads to.”
These strong words show just how upset Russia is at Armenia’s pro-Western pivot.
Against this context, Russian-Iranian ties might have become strained had Tehran not earlier scolded Yerevan, which is why it was earlier assessed that Foreign Minister Abdollahian’s call with his Armenian counterpart and the publicly reported contents thereof couldn’t have come at a better time. The Islamic Republic soberly assessed the emerging strategic situation in the South Caucasus and concluded that it’s not worth risking a wider war with Azerbaijan and by extent Turkiye for the sake of the US’ newest proxy.
Iranian policymakers deserve credit for rebuffing the public pressure recently put upon them by those social media accounts sympathetic to their worldview who agitated for that country to militarily intervene in Armenia’s support against Azerbaijan should regional hostilities resume. Those people might have intended to signal support for what they sincerely believed to be Iran’s national interests, but they veritably lacked a proper understanding of the aforesaid as proven by subsequent developments.
One of the most popular arguments that these influencers put forth to justify the scenario of Iran waging war against Azerbaijan was the supposed need to prevent Baku from cutting off its trade corridor with Armenia. They made it seem like that would crush the Iranian economy, but Iranian-Armenian trade was only $711 million last year. When compared to Iran’s estimated $388 billion GDP in 2022, this accounts for a statistically insignificant portion of the economy that’s not worth fighting a larger war over.
The other argument bandied about by many of those same people is that Azerbaijan is supposedly a “fake country” due to its people’s multi-millennia civilizational ties with Iran that were only severed as a result of Russia’s imperial expansion in the 19th century. They therefore claim that this country “doesn’t deserve to exist” and should thus be forcibly reabsorbed by Iran despite the will of the Azeri people. Those who hold these views would do well to read what President Putin wrote about Ukraine in 2021:
“Things change: countries and communities are no exception. Of course, some part of a people in the process of its development, influenced by a number of reasons and historical circumstances, can become aware of itself as a separate nation at a certain moment. How should we treat that? There is only one answer: with respect! You want to establish a state of your own: you are welcome!”
Just like Russia accepts Ukraine’s independent statehood in spite of their millennium-long civilizational ties, so too should those social media accounts sympathetic to the Islamic Republic’s worldview accept Azerbaijan’s independent statehood in spite of its multi-millennia civilizational ties with Iran. To be clear, neither Ukraine nor Azerbaijan should exploit their independent statehood to threaten others, but Azerbaijan hasn’t been turned by the West into an anti-Iran like Ukraine was turned into an anti-Russia.
The Iranian leadership doesn’t share some of its online supporters’ misinformed economic views nor their ultra-nationalist ones, which is why Foreign Minister Abdollahian just scolded Armenia for its joint US drills instead of signaled interest to militarily intervene in that country’s support against Azerbaijan. His statement reinforces trust with Russia, protects the integrity of Iran’s anti-imperialist foreign policy by showing that it won’t be duped into backing an American proxy, and therefore stabilizes the region.