Even in the event that Azeri-Turkish economic connectivity is streamlined via a trans-Armenian corridor, then there’s no realistic way that this would function as a Trojan Horse for NATO since it would be protected by the Russian Border Guard Service per the Moscow-mediated November 2020 ceasefire. It’s even more ridiculous to imagine that he was referring to the second possibility of Azerbaijan and Turkiye conducting their trade through his own country since Iran is firmly opposed to NATO too.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was reported by local media on Wednesday to have told the visiting Armenian National Security Secretary that “the Zangezur corridor is a platform for NATO presence in the region”. This challenges the assessment shared several days ago by Ali Alizadeh, a member of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, who revealed that his country suggested connecting Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan (and thus then Turkiye) via the Islamic Republic’s territory.
Azerbaijan and Turkiye are already economically linked via Georgia, but conducting trade through Armenia and/or Iran would streamline their connectivity. As for the first of these two options, the Moscow-mediated November 2020 ceasefire stipulates that the Russian Border Guard Service would protect this corridor that all three parties agreed to at the time. The second, meanwhile, would squeeze Russia out of the geo-economic equation since Iran has no reason to request its security services.
Regardless of whichever shortened route it might possibly take in the coming future, Azeri-Turkish economic connectivity is already a reality due to Georgia, so the notion that this in and of itself represents “a platform for NATO presence in the region” – let alone a new implied threat – isn’t accurate. President Raisi therefore probably didn’t have that in mind when he employed the harsh language that he did to describe the Zangezur Corridor, thus leading one to wonder exactly what he meant and why.
After all, even in the event that Azeri-Turkish economic connectivity is streamlined via a trans-Armenian corridor, then there’s no realistic way that this would function as a Trojan Horse for NATO since it would be protected by the Russian Border Guard Service per the Moscow-mediated November 2020 ceasefire. It’s even more ridiculous to imagine that he was referring to the second possibility of Azerbaijan and Turkiye conducting their trade through his own country since Iran is firmly opposed to NATO too.
Considering these factual observations about the regional strategic and geo-economic situation in the South Caucasus, President Raisi’s rhetoric was either insincere or influenced by a false understanding of exactly what the Zangezur Corridor is. On the one hand, he might just be trying to signal that Iran disapproves of trans-Armenian connectivity between those two because it wants to profit off of this instead, but it could also be that he was misinformed about Azeri-Turkish plans too.
Building upon the latter possibility, the ultra-nationalist Armenian diaspora lobby had already successfully infiltrated Iran’s media ecosystem over the past decade after some of its members’ criticisms of Western policy in Syria earned them the trust of its publicly financed media. To be fair, they also infiltrated Russia’s too, as well as both country’s informal media ecosystems via their partnerships with independent media that share those two’s worldviews. This was elaborated more at length here.
In the Iranian context that forms the focus of this piece, it therefore can’t be ruled out that some Iranian policymakers were influenced by this lobby’s operations, which exploited the trust that they earned within its media ecosystems to manipulate perceptions about Azerbaijan and Turkiye. The purpose was to turn Iran against those two, and it’s very possible that some within its policymaking community sympathize with their views in this respect.
Those that do are prone to believing that Azerbaijan and Turkiye are plotting to invade Armenia’s Syunik Province, which Iran had previously signaled would be considered a threat to regional security that could prompt it to directly intervene to preserve its neighbor’s borders. Accordingly, it might very well be that President Raisi was misinformed about those two’s intentions by someone who sympathizes with the ultra-nationalist Armenian lobby’s views and who successfully influenced that person’s own.
This sequence of events would explain why the Iranian leader would describe the Zangezur Corridor as “a platform for NATO presence in the region” since he could have been misled by trusted advisors into thinking that Azerbaijan and Turkiye are plotting to invade Armenia with the US’ blessing. The reality is actually the opposite, however, since the ultra-nationalist Armenian lobby literally demanded that the US invade Azerbaijan late last month as was documented here.
Nevertheless, President Raisi should be given the benefit of the doubt since he can’t be expected to follow every neighboring country’s international lobbying networks, which is why the fault would fall on his advisors in this scenario. Of course, the earlier hypothesis that was mentioned in passing might also be true, namely that he’s just signaling Iran’s disapproval of a trans-Armenian corridor because he wants it to pass through his country instead.
In that case, President Raisi would know very well that the Zangezur Corridor doesn’t represent “a platform for NATO presence in the region”, but decided to fearmonger otherwise in order to pressure Azerbaijan and Turkiye into rerouting their trade through Iran so that it can profit off of it. His self-interested motives in this regard would be predicated on his sincere understanding of Iran’s objective national interests, particularly the need to integrate itself more into the broader region.
He wouldn’t have had any intent to extend false credence to the kooky conspiracy theory that Russia and its Border Guards Service are supposedly in cahoots with NATO like some folks with overactive imaginations might be inclined to think after reading his latest words. Iran cooperates with Russia on a broad range of strategic issues so it’s unbelievable that its leadership would now all of a sudden want to signal that it suspects that country of secretly selling out to the same bloc that it’s fighting in Ukraine.
For these reasons, President Raisi likely doesn’t believe his own rhetoric about the Zangezur Corridor. Even if he was misled by Armenian-influenced advisors into having false expectations about this project like was earlier explained, all he’d have to do is reflect on them for a moment to realize how misguided they are. That said, he probably knows very well how ridiculous his rhetoric sounds, but thought it was required to help ensure that Azeri-Turkish trade is rerouted through Iran instead of Armenia.