Representatives from the Foreign Ministries of India, Iran and Armenia recently met in Yerevan marking their first trilateral meeting. Deputy Foreign Minister of Armenia Mnatsakan Safaryan, Assistant to the Foreign Minister of Iran Seyed Rasoul Mousavi and Joint Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs of India JP Singh led the delegations during the meeting. The delegations discussed the future plans for the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) as well as other strategic connectivity plans that intend to improve regional connectivity, thereby reducing the logistical costs and time for shipments from India and Iran to Russia and onwards to Central Asia and Europe. As per the official statement from the Armenian Foreign Ministry, the delegations also discussed various economic issues, ways to improve regional communication channels and people-to-people connections. The meeting took place amid increasing tensions between Russia and the West and growing concerns regarding distorted transit routes in Eurasia because of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
The shortcomings and limitations of Armenia’s defense capabilities are a concern in the context of expanding trade routes and increasing connectivity. Tensions along the borders have escalated often following the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020 and Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of using force to change national boundaries. Iran supports Armenia and has warned Azerbaijan not to change its borders unilaterally. The possible security risks and tensions raise concerns about expanding regional interconnectivity and attracting investments. Armenia has been looking for prospective partners to bolster trade and defense cooperation amid tensions with Azerbaijan, and the bilateral relations between India and Armenia in recent years have grown significantly, especially on the defense front. India and Armenia had signed a $155 million agreement for 155mm artillery gun systems and India had also agreed to supply Armenia with missiles, rockets, ammunition and anti-tank munitions. Moreover, Armenia is India’s first international customer for the indigenously developed Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launchers. India in recent years has taken significant steps to focus on the development of indigenous defense systems under the Make in India scheme and India-Armenia defense relations are important in accordance with New Delhi’s desire to increase its defense exports.
Enhancing regional connectivity is a major consideration when it comes to India-Iran-Armenia trilateral cooperation. The INSTC agreement was signed in 2002 by Russia, Iran and India and ever since it has proceeded slowly because of sanctions, bureaucratic hassles and regional tensions. The corridor is a multi-mode network of roads, railways and ship routes that aims to increase the level of connectivity between the major cities along the route. Central Asia is of immense strategic importance for India and it invested in Chabahar port largely to increase its connectivity with the region. Last year the first shipment arrived from Astrakhan port in Russia to Jawaharlal Nehru port in Mumbai via the INSTC. This route reduces transit time by up to 40 percent and decreases freight costs by 30 percent in comparison to the conventional Suez Canal route and has gathered momentum in recent years, particularly to mitigate the impact of Western sanctions.
In the current context, major underpinnings for trilateral cooperation are based on connectivity, economy and trade. Firstly, Iran and Armenia in recent years have been trying to deepen their bilateral cooperation. Transit and connectivity routes like the Norduz-Syunik-Yerevan road are crucial for both countries in this respect. However, tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan remain a concern, especially against the backdrop of border clashes. Armenia’s connectivity in the northern and southern borders is critical for regional interconnectivity considering its tense relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey. Since Armenia does not have direct access to the sea and is landlocked, its transit transportation opportunities remain limited. Armenia’s connectivity with Georgia and Iran will remain crucial as the Armenia-Turkey land border has remained closed for the last three decades ever since Ankara decided to close the border in support of Azerbaijan during the First Nagorno-Karabakh War. Secondly, trilateral cooperation between India, Iran and Armenia increases the prospects for connectivity between the Arabian Gulf and the Black Sea which would enable Indian goods to reach Western markets, especially as New Delhi is looking for additional routes to reach Europe. Iran in recent years has accelerated efforts to leverage its strategic location and position itself as a major transport hub between Asia and Europe and has found converging interests with both India and Armenia. Thirdly, amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict, India has increased bilateral trade with Russia and New Delhi is particularly interested in exploring parallel transit routes that connect Mumbai with Bandar Abbas in Iran and then Armenia which would then be linked to Russia and Europe, bypassing Azerbaijan. Armenia’s geographical location is important in this respect. Fourthly, the sanctions on Russia and the growing tensions between it and the West have increased security and financial risks which impact global logistics and supply chains. Hence, the proposed Iran-Black Sea Corridor will be an important and attractive alternative. Indian and European financing of connectivity projects is beneficial for Armenia, especially as New Delhi has been involved in several large-scale infrastructural projects overseas in recent years. Armenia’s Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan recently expressed the country’s interest in “advancing cooperation within the framework of North-South connectivity” as well as Arabian Gulf and Black Sea connectivity routes for which he said, “India’s potential and prospective role” remains significant, especially in terms of investments in infrastructure projects. However, Armenian efforts to accelerate the infrastructure projects connecting Iran in the south and Georgia in the north will remain critical for the proposed alternative interconnectivity plans like the Iran-Black Sea Corridor.