Hamid Zanganeh

Grounds for Consolidation of Iran-Russia Cooperation in the CIS Region

Date of publication : March 1, 2019 10:30 am
A picture shows export oil pipelines at an oil facility in the Khark Island, on the shore of the Gulf, on February 23, 2016.
A picture shows export oil pipelines at an oil facility in the Khark Island, on the shore of the Gulf, on February 23, 2016.

Economic Cooperation

Trade within Eurasian Economic Union
* Temporary agreement on the formation of a free trade zone between the Eurasian Economic Union (Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan) and Iran has been signed in 17 May 2018.
* The deal sets the main rules of trade between the EEU and Iran most closely to those of the World Trade Organization, which Iran has not yet joined.
* The document creates conditions for boosting the development of trade and economic cooperation between countries through the liberalization of trade rules. It defines the obligations of the parties, providing for the reduction or elimination of tariffs and non-tariff barriers in relation to certain goods. The agreement also establishes preferential rates of customs duties that apply to such goods.
* It is agreed that the party importer recognizes sanitary and phytosanitary measures of the exporting country as equivalent, even if these measures differ from its own or other measures used by third countries. 
* The deal establishes the rules for determining the origin of goods that are to be included in the preferential tariff regime.
* The interim agreement covers 50% of the trade between the parties.
* The deal is expected to increase trade between Iran and EEU.

The International North–South Transport Corridor (INSTC)

- The International North–South Transport Corridor (INSTC) is a multi-mode network of ship, rail and road route which joins the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea through Iran and then continues to St. Petersburg and northern Europe via Russia.
- International North–South Transport Corridor (INSTC) is expected to provide faster and more efficient trade connectivity. The corridor will cut transportation time and freight costs by half when compared to the current route through the Suez Canal, which have ships sailing half way around the world to reach European destinations. So it can be a vital link for the promotion of trade and economic relations among Russia, CIS nations, Iran, India and other Countries in South Asia and North Europe.
- A railway linking Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran began operating in December 2014.
- The INSTC route through Azerbaijan needs to be completed in Iran. The remaining construction of Qazvin to Rasht rail route will be completed soon.
- India made some investment in Chabahar Port (South East of Iran) to a better access to Central Asia and its market. The launch of Chabahar Port - whose Phase 1 was inaugurated in December 2017- coupled with INSTC will be a beneficial for Iran, Russia, CIS Countries and India.

Council for Rail Transport of the Commonwealth Member States

* The Council for Rail Transport of the Commonwealth Member States and its executive body - the Council Directorate - were created by the Agreement of the CIS Member States Heads of Government signed on 14 February 1992 in order to ensure stable economic ties between the CIS member states.
* The Council's main tasks are to: coordinate railway transport at the inter-governmental level and develop agreed principles for its activities; and organize the joint operation of freight wagons and containers.
* A decision has been taken to preserve and develop the common information space. An Information and Computing Centre for Railway Administrations has been established and is successfully operating. The Centre's main purpose is to provide information support for joint use and ensure the technical maintenance of freight cars and containers.
* The Council's executive body is the Council Directorate, which is headed by the Chairman.
* More than 250 documents have been developed within the framework of the Council and now serve to ensure the functioning of the networks.
* The Council members are the heads of the railway administrations in the CIS member states. The railway administration of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the International Confederation of Trade Unions of Railwaymen and Transport Builders have observer status on the Council.
* Iranian side has signed the associate membership request during the 60th session of CIS Council for Rail Transport that took place in Astana, Kazakhstan on 10 May 2014.
* Iran intends to expand the mutual cooperation with the CIS countries in rail transport within the Council.


-Iran, Russia and some of CIS Countries has giant energy capacities. They can cooperate in following grounds:
- Investment cooperation development
- Modern methods and technologies of geologic exploration
- Advanced technologies and equipment for oil and gas production
- Petro-chemistry and oil refining
- Modernization and repair of infrastructure, including pipelines
- Solutions for ecological safety
- New market outlets
- Financial safety

Caspian Cooperation

The Caspian Sea belongs to five states (Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan) and the regional countries should use the resources to establish peace and security. Different documents have been signed by the official representatives of the five littoral Caspian states, including:
* Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea (Tehran Convention)
* Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Security in the Caspian Sea
* Protocol on Cooperation in Combating Terrorism in the Caspian Sea to the Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Security in the Caspian Sea
* Protocol on Cooperation in Combating Organized Crime in the Caspian Sea to the Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Security in the Caspian Sea
* Protocol on Cooperation and Interaction among Border Authorities to the Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Security in the Caspian Sea
* Agreement on Hydrometeorology Cooperation in the Caspian Sea
* Agreement on Cooperation on Disaster Warning and Relief in the Caspian Sea
* Agreement on Preservation and Rational Use of Caspian Sea Marine Biological Resources
* Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea
* Agreement among the Governments of the Caspian littoral States on Trade and Economic Cooperation
* Agreement among the Governments of the Caspian littoral States on Cooperation in the Field of Transport

Security and Political Cooperation

Shanghai Cooperation Organization

-The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was founded in 2001 by China, Russia and four central-Asian republics with the declared aim of promoting a framework of effective cooperation in politics, economy, security and regional stability, among many other areas of strategic interest. In 2017, India and Pakistan joined the SCO as full members.

- Iran is an observer member of the organization and has lobbied for upgrading its status and obtaining full membership, for which Tehran officially applied in 2008. This request has not been answered.

- Besides the obvious economic factors, Iran’s attraction towards a full membership in the SCO answers to a strong political rationale. Iran would like to join a growing, Eastern-led process of regional integration. Iran has some political, security and economic capacities that are beneficial for SCO members. On the other side, SCO full membership will improve Iran’s global status.

- The security of external borders, primarily in terms of the Afghan drug threat in the Caspian region, is seen as a high-priority objective for strengthening cooperation between SCO and Iran.

Peace and Stability in Caucasus and Central Asia

* From the Iranian and Russian perspective, the expansion of NATO into CIS countries could potentially create a problem. This is why both sides have encouraged regional cooperation in security and political terms.
* There were attempts by Tehran and Moscow to mediate Nagorno-Karabakh conflict from the early 1990s. Besides Tehran and Moscow had the experience of cooperation for ending the internal war in Tajikistan.
* Iran and Russia have the capacity to bolster their cooperation in areas such as combating terrorism, organized crime, smuggling, human trafficking and illegal migration, illicit traffic in narcotic drugs, the laundering of proceeds of crime, and fight against piracy.

Fight Against Terrorism

-The success of the armed forces of Iran and Russia in the process of combating terrorism in Syria and the defeat of Takfiri terrorists indicate the capacities of Iran and Russia to counter the existing threats.
- The capacities of Iran and Russia necessitate that the two countries develop their cooperation areas from a long-term perspective and devise plans and manage them.

Fighting Against Narcotics and Drugs

* Smuggling narcotics and drugs from Afghanistan is a common problem for Iran, Russia and CIS countries. So they can cooperate in following fields:
* Preventing and fighting illegal production, smuggling and abuse of all kinds of narcotics and psychedelic drugs
* Exchange of operational information on drug crops and drug laboratories and conducting joint operations to find and intercept illegal drugs and those who traffic them
* Close talks in different international arenas on the global problem of large-scale heroin and cocaine production.

Science and Cultural Cooperation

Academic Cooperation

- Association of State Universities of Caspian Sea Region Countries has been established in 1996 among some universities of the Caspian littoral states.
- Missions of this association are: cooperative cultural, educational and research of universities, the exchange of information on the fields of science related to the Caspian Seat creation of the Caspian Sea database, holding seminars and joint training workshops about the Caspian Sea; publish a common scientific bulletin in English, exchange of professors and students in educational and research fields, creation of new fields related to the Caspian Sea at Union Universities, creating the necessary facilities to promote the language of the countries of the union.
- In addition to academic cooperation, some sport and cultural events have been held in this framework.

* Regional Commonwealth in the field of communications (RCC) was established on December 17, 1991 in Moscow by the Communications Administrations of CIS countries.
* The organization has been designed to carry out the coordination in the field of postal and telecommunications. The RCC proclaimed itself an open organization for joining the Communications Administrations of other states.
* The RCC structure is now composed of 20 members and 12 full members and 8 observers.
* Iran is after cooperation with its northern neighbors in the communication and information technology sector. Iranian Minister of Telecommunication attended in meeting of the Council of Heads of Communications Administrations of the RCC in Ashgabat in October 2018.

There are numerous grounds for cooperation of Iran and Russia in CIS sphere, but successful realization of these opportunities will depend on political will among the states. Tehran and Moscow are experiencing a sanctions regime from Washington and there is a shared understanding in Moscow and Tehran that the US is a geopolitical enemy. This can bolster political will for a better cooperation. Iran, Russia and some of CIS Countries can create some new format of multilateral cooperation based on their needs and joint interests. For example, Caspian Sea littoral states need a cooperative organization.

Hamid Zanganeh (PhD) is fellow at IRAS.

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