Could Iranian Sanctions Close Armenia’s Third Border?
Landlocked Armenia’s world is claustrophobic enough as it is, with borders closed to the left and right with neighbors Turkey and Azerbaijan. Now, according to ex-Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, a fresh series of international sanctions against Iran threatens to shut Armenia’s third, southern border as well, and choke off a key trade route -- a development that “Armenia cannot afford,” he told Al Jazeera.
With some $300 million in bilateral trade turnover a year, Iran is Armenia's fourth largest trade partner. Tehran, eager for clout in the region, has been keen to take that partnership still further, but these plans could be jeopardized by Western efforts to starve the Iranian government into abandoning its nuclear ambitions, Oskanian reasoned.
“Clearly those [new] sanctions are going to bite Armenia” and “will be tantamount for Armenia to a third closed border,” Oskanian said. He noted that Yerevan will have no other choice but to respect its obligations to the West and enforce the sanctions. The European Union is the main outlet for Armenian goods and Armenia, its economy still trying to stagger out from under the effects of the international financial crisis, is a recipient of Western aid.
If the border with Iran effectively shuts down, that would leave Armenia with only a northern, land-based trade gate. This route lies across Georgia -- not exactly a bosom buddy, historically -- to Armenia’s biggest trade partner and ally, Russia. But Georgian-Russian tensions cast a pall on the reliability of this route.
Desperate for foreign investment and trade opportunities, Armenia, which saw its Moody’s rating downgraded recently, does not have much incentive simply to sit and wait for Tbilisi and the Kremlin to patch things up.
Ever the chess player, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan is now working to strengthen ties with somewhat friendly Georgia. On November 29, he was warmly received in Tbilisi by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who again enthused about his idea of uniting the Caucasus (minus Russia) through a common economic space and potential political union. But while Georgia hopes to diminish Russia’s role in the Caucasus, Armenia’s main economic interest is make sure that Georgia functions well as a layover point for Russia-bound goods. That could mean more visits for Sargsyan in store.This post was amended on 11/30/11 to correct the value of bilateral trade turnover between Armenia and Iran.