Armenia hosts first trilateral meeting with Iranian and Indian officials

April 23, 2023 - 21:38

Armenia has hosted the first trilateral consultations with India and Iran, two increasingly significant partners for Yerevan as it plays the geopolitical field during a rocky patch in its relationship with Moscow, reported on April 21.

The April 20 meeting involved various deputies and assistants in the foreign ministries of the three countries, and focused primarily on “economic issues and regional communication channels,” according to a readout by the Armenian foreign ministry. “The sides agreed to continue consultations in a trilateral format.”

While the focus of the Yerevan meeting was trade, there was a strategic backdrop: Iran and India have been at the forefront of Armenia’s search for new sources of security as Armenians feel they have been let down by their traditional security guarantor, Russia.

As Azerbaijan has sought to push its advantage following its 2020 victory over Armenia in the Second Karabakh War, Iran has implied that it would provide a sort of security guarantee for Armenia. Iranian officials have repeatedly stated that Tehran would consider “changing borders in the Caucasus” to be a “red line” for it. This seems to be an implicit warning to Azerbaijan, that if it were to forcibly take land in southern Armenia for its mooted “Zangezur Corridor” – as Baku occasionally threatens – that Tehran would somehow intervene. Iran also set up a consulate in the southern Armenian city of Kapan last year.

India, meanwhile, has been sought as a potential arms supplier in the wake of apparent interruptions in deliveries from Armenia’s traditional armorer, Russia. Reports since 2020 in the Indian press have suggested a wide variety of arms supplies from India to Armenia including artillery, drones, and missiles. None of those have been confirmed (other than an order of artillery-locating radar), though Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has coyly declined to deny the reports.

“I’ve said earlier that the acquisition of armaments and weapons isn’t the subject which I’d like to publicly discuss, but I have to say that these media reports have not been denied by Armenia and I wouldn’t want to say anything more than that,” Pashinyan said last September when asked about reports of imports from India. “But I also want our public to know that we are taking active steps to expand our cooperation in the military-technical sector.”

The Armenian news site Hetq, which is well connected in Armenia’s military, has reported that the deals for artillery systems, multiple-launch rocket systems, anti-tank weapons, and ammunition have in fact gone through. In February, an Armenian deputy defense minister visited India reportedly to “discuss greater military cooperation.”

There also have been press reports of Armenian interest in buying Iranian weaponry, though that is likely to be a non-starter as long as Armenia also courts the West.

In trilateral terms, the Iran-India-Armenia would-be axis is focused on trade, in particular a Persian Gulf-Black Sea trade route that would allow Indian goods to be shipped West.

“The Persian Gulf-Black Sea corridor fits well into India's plans as it looks for additional routes to reach Europe, circumventing the Suez Canal and avoiding the negative impact of Russia-West confrontation,” the Indian newspaper Economic Times wrote on the occasion of a March 2023 trip by Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan to New Delhi to drum up support for the idea. (Of course, reaching the Black Sea would require another leg beyond Armenia, presumably Georgia, though Tbilisi has evinced little interest in such a project thus far.)

“We are interested in advancing cooperation within the framework of North-South connectivity, as well as the Persian Gulf-Black Sea international transport corridor,” Mirzoyan said in a January speech. “Armenia considers India's potential and prospective role for these projects as quite significant.”

Armenia “has sought Indian investments for the corridor in the Armenian territory,” Economic Times reported, citing unnamed sources in the Armenian government.

In a recent speech, Armenia’s ambassador in India, Yuri Babakhanyan, described the ties between the two countries as “civilizational.”

“Some day we will turn this into a strategic partnership and I think that day is close,” he said. And the civilizational ties were bolstered by Yerevan felt left alone in the 2020 war, Babakhanyan said. “Armenia felt abandoned by the West and Russia,” he said.

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