With Russia and China moving towards closer partnership and Russia moving East, Iran is positioned as a viable alternative to European gas woes amidst Russian threats to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine. Last month, Iran announced its intention supply Europe with gas. Whether such a scenario possible is open to question.
Iran holds the world’s largest gas reserves and already supplies Turkey with more than 50 percent of its energy needs. With Turkey already looking to be the crossroad between Azerbaijan and Europe through the Trans-Anatolian pipeline (TANAP), Iran can increase capacity to the existing line or build its own. Interestingly, the second option was in motion in the form of an Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline that was thwarted by the West and Sunni Gulf states through the attempted destabilization of the Assad regime.
This was, however, at a time when Iran was still perceived as enemy #1 and before Russia’s geopolitical resurgence and subsequent annexation of Crimea. Given that the West is already dangling carrots and negotiating with Iran on its nuclear program, they may go further and and try to mold Iran as a viable gas alternative to Russia which has reclaimed its role as chief villain. Although Iran and Russia are geo-strategic allies dedicated to protecting common interests, it is far from a loyal alliance. In 2010 Russia bowed to U.S. pressure and held back the sale of the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system, much to Iran’s displeasure. Russia has also been in discussions with Israel, Iran’s arch nemesis, regarding its newfound energy wealth in the Tamar and Leviathan gas fields. More significantly, Russia did not veto UN sanctions against Iran. Given these realities, it wouldn’t be inconceivable for Iran to act on an opportunity that could further legitimize it in the eyes of the international community.
What may make sense economically, however, does not always make sense politically. Although the Iran-Russia alliance is a relationship of convenience, any move by Iran to bolster the much ballyhooed Southern Corridor is bound to raise Russian ire and risk military links dedicated to protecting common interests. Doing so would also weaken the nascent yet formidable China-Russia-Iran nexus which is posing a worthy challenge to the West and succeeding by preventing the fall of Syria to Western imperial machinations. Given that China also imports Iranian oil and has a burgeoning relationship with Russia, it would be foolhardy to opt out of such an arrangement merely for economic gain. From an American perspective, any export to Europe would also require heavy investment by the West to develop Iran’s underdeveloped gas fields and the latter would have to allow it. Given Western antipathy towards Iran, such a scenario is not likely in the near future.
The recent announcement was merely a PR stunt aimed to validate Iran’s importance. Iran knows that extracting concessions from the West through nuclear negotiations while maintaining security and economic links with Russia and China is a luxury that cannot be passed up.