Checkmate: Iran Is Spearheading a Geopolitical Sea Change in West Asia

Benjamin Franklin once famously wrote to his fellow colonials: “Either we hang together or we hang separately.”

Those words are just as true today as they were 270 years ago, for empires have always controlled by dividing their victims into regional tribal interests in order to be better conquered.

While techniques have adapted to modern times, the essential ingredients for the science of discord remain relatively unchanged: keep resources scarce, fear and ignorance high, and let a targeted population clash over diminishing returns of scarcity.

Amid this division, myopic ethnic, religious, and linguistic prejudices have fertile soil to grow to the benefit of an oligarchic elite.

Today’s Americans, sitting as they are on the precipice of a their own internal civil clashes, and economic collapse more broadly, have not heeded the advice of their own founding fathers well enough.

However, it is no small irony that Ben Franklin’s advice is being taken to heart in another part of the world far removed from the decaying republic.

The China-Russia-Iran alliance challenges rules-based disorder

Since Iran finalized its Comprehensive 25 Year Cooperation Plan with China on 27 March, a completely new geometry has arisen in Southwest Asia, which is evolving at breakneck speed.

An ancient civilization serving as the third foundational pillar supporting the Greater Eurasian Partnership, and having joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on 17 September, Iran has finally emerged as a leading driver for stabilization and progress.

Alongside security agreements with Russia that have seen the two nations conducting Indian Ocean military drills in February 2021, Russia, Iran and China (RIC) have also announced that all three parties would hold joint naval drills in the Persian Gulf by the start of 2022.

Russian-Iran relations don’t end here, but a 20-year cooperation agreement – modelled on the Iran-China agreement – between the two powers is also in the final stages of negotiation.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh stated on 11 December: “Like the 25-year cooperation roadmap we developed with China, we can do the same with major neighboring countries.”

Among the many impossibilities now becoming possible under this new system, the Iranian-led Persian Gulf-Black Sea International Transportation and Transit Corridor, which many thought was long dead, has in 2016 has come back to life with force.

This transformative corridor is an obvious synergistic component to the China-led east-west Belt and Road Initiative, and Russian-Indian led International North South Transportation Corridor, both of which are sweeping across the world island.

The Iran-Azerbaijan-Turkmenistan gas swap

At the 28 November Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) summit in Ashgabat, the leaders of Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkmenistan overcame immense hurdles by finalizing an important gas swap deal that will involve Iran receiving two billion cubic meters of gas per year from Turkmenistan, which it will also send in equal proportions to Azerbaijan.

This agreement broke through the five-year block on gas relations between Turkmenistan and Iran, which had collapsed in 2016 due to complaints over unpaid oil from over a decade earlier. Additionally, the war which many commentators were warning might break out just a few months ago between Azerbaijan and Iran makes the agreement for renewed cooperation between the two nations that much more important.

Iranian president Raisi alluded to the foreign interests that were provoking fires during that heated period saying: “We must never allow others to interfere in our relations. We must resolve our own problems, work together to advance our relations and deepen mutually beneficial cooperation. Experience so far shows that when we discuss our issues ourselves, we manage to resolve many of them.”

The Trans-Caspian and White Stream pipelines complement the Southern Gas Corridor (Source: Trans-Caspian Pipeline)

The three nations also agreed to deepen integration and cooperation in transportation, trade, shipping, tourism and, most importantly, the development of the incredibly bountiful offshore oil and gas resources within the Caspian Sea.

While southern Iran holds the world’s second largest oil and natural gas reserves (behind Russia, who sits at #1), Turkmenistan is 4th on the list, while offshore deposits in the Caspian Sea represent some of the largest in the world.

As Pepe Escobar has observed in his recent contribution to The Cradle, the Chalous Gas fields in the Caspian not only represent the tenth largest reserves in the world with a $5.4 trillion value but, according to experts, this region alone could service 52 percent of Europe’s natural gas needs for 20 years. As of this writing, agreements have been signed, which will see this region developed by Russian, Chinese and Iranian interests.

The long overdue 300 km Trans Caspian Pipeline (TCP) crossing the Caspian has also come much closer to being realized alongside this harmonization of interests. With its completion in 2022, the TCP will connect to the Southern Gas Corridor and Turkey’s TANAP.

The final branch to Europe via the Nabucco gas pipeline will easily be completed (if political sabotage is avoided), providing Europe with abundant gas for generations. This will give both Iran and Russia a position of vast economic leverage with a mismanaged Europe now experiencing one of the worst man-made energy crises in history.

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