As Russia’s military invasion in Ukraine enters its eighth month, Moscow is steadily losing strategic superiority as Ukraine retakes lost territory through its tremendously successful counterattacks. Russia’s defeat along the Kharkiv-Lyman front and its retreat in Kherson, compounded by the difficulties of implementing its partial mobilization order, have diminished Moscow’s optimism regarding the war’s outcome. To rectify Russia’s increasingly weak strategic position and depleted weapons stockpiles, Moscow has turned to its long-term partners—namely China, Iran, and North Korea—to meet its needs for combat drones, modern artillery pieces, and ammunition.
In July, the White House claimed that Iran was preparing to supply Russia with hundreds of weapons-capable drones for use in Ukraine. According to U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, “information further indicates that Iran is preparing to train Russian forces to use these UAVs, with initial training sessions slated to begin as soon as early July.” These allegations caused an uproar in Ukraine and the West, though Tehran categorically denied the charge. American reports were confirmed in late-September, when Ukrainian forces shot down Iranian combat drones in the eastern Dnipropetrovsk region, the southern city of Odesa, and the nearby Pivdennyi port. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry identified the downed aerial vehicles as Shahid-136 unmanned kamikaze drones and Mohajer-6 drones, which can carry missiles or perform reconnaissance missions. Continue reading
In 2020, Iran’s counter-intelligence agencies were challenged by the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the country’s top physicist and the leader of its nuclear program. Iranian officials have described the assassination as an attempt to sabotage Iran’s nuclear energy ambitions. It was initially thought that Fakhrizadeh had been killed in an assault on his car by gunmen using automatic firearms and explosives, but it later emerged that the Iranian scientist had been assassinated by means of a remote-controlled machine gun. Iranian authorities have traditionally blamed similar assassinations on the Forqa Group and the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, the two major anti-regime armed groups; instead, Tehran implicated Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, in Fakhrizadeh’s killing, publicly admitting to Israel’s ability to strike deep within Iran for perhaps the first time. Continue reading
The further development of Iran’s drone program in recent years allowed it to produce a number of new classes of drones, such as the Shahid, Qasef, Mohajer, Samad, Ababeel, and, most recently, the Kaman, which is modeled on the U.S.-made MQ-1 Predator and advanced MQ-9 Reaper.
Amid mounting domestic unrest and ongoing diplomatic standoffs with regional states, Iran has devoted a significant and increasing amount of national resources toward upgrading its national drone program. On May 17, the Iranian government officially inaugurated its first overseas drone factory in Dushanbe, Tajikistan; the facility manufactures the indigenous Ababil-2, a multipurpose drone model with reconnaissance, combat, and suicide capabilities. The Ababil-2 boasts a maximum range of 200 kilometers and can sustain roughly 90 minutes of flight time. The new drone factory will help Iran to improve relations with Tajikistan after a period of lingering diplomatic tension, and General Mohammad Bagheri described its inauguration as a turning point in bilateral military cooperation between the two countries. Continue reading
Facing new security challenges in the Gulf region, the United Arab Emirates pushed for the normalization of ties with two other major regional powers – Israel and Turkey. The trilateral rapprochement could help the UAE reduce its national security risks stemming from Iran and its proxy forces.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid an official visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on February 14, for the first time since 2013, when Erdogan was still Prime Minister. Erdogan and his delegation’s visit were greeted with a 21-gun salute and a massive aerial show in Abu Dhabi.
The visit attracted much international media attention, as it was Erdogan’s first state visit to the UAE as President. This was of significance considering the deterioration of UAE-Turkey relations in the aftermath of the 2016 Turkish coup attempt. Tensions between the two countries were also considerably heightened during and in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring revolutionary protests, with the two countries adopting opposing foreign policies.
The rapprochement of the two countries came at an uneasy time given the escalating strains between Iran and Israel, the renewed hostilities between the Houthis and the Saudi-UAE-led coalition in Yemen, and the deepening economic crisis in Turkey. Continue reading
Photo Credit: Daily Sabah
On October 6, 2021, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov met his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir Abdollahian in Moscow to discuss regional security and economic cooperation, and to address important concerns regarding the crisis in the South Caucasus. During the joint press conference, Lavrov repeatedly highlighted the idea of a “3+3 cooperation format” including the three South Caucasus states – Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia – plus their three large neighbors, Russia, Turkey, and Iran, to focus on unlocking economic and transport communications in the region. The first meeting within the format took place in Moscow on December 2021; however, Georgia refused to take part. Moreover, recent tensions in the region between Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as Azerbaijan and Iran suggest that the proposed format will not generate visible positive outcomes.
BACKGROUND: After the second Karabakh war, Turkey revealed its intention to establish a 3+3 cooperation format in the South Caucasus, including Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia along with Turkey, Russia and Iran, with the intention to boost intraregional economic cooperation and new transit links. The initiative was received positively by Russia and Iran, much less so by Georgia and Armenia given the security situation of these countries. For Armenia, participation in the format along with Azerbaijan in the aftermath of the large-scale conflict seems challenging, as Yerevan has avoided agreements on any land trade corridors with Azerbaijan as long as disagreements over borders remain unsettled. In the case of Georgia, Russia’s participation in the format spells a danger of negative repercussions. Continue reading
Azeri Artillery shelling Armenian positions (Photo: BBC)
Following the deadliest large-scale violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh region for nearly three decades, the active phase of the conflict ended in November with a signed ceasefire agreement. But while the conflict asserted Turkey’s influence in the South Caucasus region, it also contributed to increased tensions between Ankara, Moscow, and Tehran.
The Turkish-Russian confrontation in the South Caucasus can be seen as a logical continuation of the rivalry in Syria and Libya, which resulted in shifting the regional balance of power along the southern borders of Russia. The active political involvement of Ankara in the conflict caused deep outrage not only in Moscow but also in Tehran, another important regional actor.
When fighting began, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey would continue to support Azerbaijan “with all its resources and heart.” During the war, Ankara provided Baku with active political and military support by exporting at least six armed Bayraktar TB2 type attack drones and supplying smart munitions (MAM-L), including precision-guided missiles. Continue reading
Photo by Azerbaijani Presidency/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Over the past several weeks geopolitical experts have been talking a lot about what the surprise U.S. drone attack on Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – Quds Force, on Jan. 3 means for the Middle East and relations between the major powers. What has received considerably less attention, however, is what Soleimani’s killing means for the South Caucasus, a region whose small size belies its strategic importance.
Located at the crossroads of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, the South Caucasus is a major energy supplier and an increasingly important arena for competition between regional powers, like Turkey and Iran, and great powers, like the U.S. and Russia.
Washington believed that taking out Soleimani would restore the leverage it had lost to Iran and Russia’s growing role in the region. Although U.S. sanctions have hurt Iran’s economy, sparking anti-government demonstrations, Russia, China, much of Europe, and even many American political leaders have railed against the Soleimani strike. Continue reading
After more than a decade of negotiations, the economic sanctions against Iran were lifted in January. Iran, P5+1 countries, and the European Union agreed on the adoption of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The JCPOA limited the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program as a quid-pro-quo for a return to the oil market. Iran’s return to global oil markets would mean a new challenge both for Europe and the South Caucasus. This paper will examine the political and economic implications of the lifting of sanctions for the South Caucasus region.
Published by BILGESAM; NO:1292; February 5, 2015