It’s Time to Institutionalize Trilateral Russian-Iranian-Turkish Cooperation in Eurasia

Senior Assistant to Iranian Foreign Minister for Special Political Affairs Ali Asghar Khaji told Russian media on 22 December that there are plans to host a summit between those two countries and Turkey sometime next year. This wouldn’t be the first one, but it should serve to further institutionalize their trilateral cooperation in Eurasia. These three Great Powers are the proud modern-day inheritors of historical civilization-states. Their contemporary coordination in Syria has been crucial to stabilizing the situation in that war-torn country, which should set the basis upon which they further expand the geographic scope of their joint efforts on the supercontinent.

These three countries also have interests in the South Caucasus and Afghanistan, albeit to varying extents. Azerbaijan proposed including Russia, Iran, and Turkey in its president’s six-country regional integration platform that he unveiled approximately a year ago following Baku’s victory in the Karabakh War. He envisions a 3+3 format between those three Great Powers and the three comparatively smaller states of the South Caucasus. This is meant to maximally optimize their collective potential in turning this region into one of Eurasia’s top connectivity nodes in the 21st century. It would be mutually beneficial for this to happen, which should incentivize closer Russian, Iranian, and Turkish cooperation.

As for Afghanistan, Russia has more influence among its de facto Taliban-led government than Iran or Turkey despite Moscow still officially designating that group as terrorists. Nevertheless, the Kremlin pragmatically cooperates with it in the interests of peace, stability, and development. Iran has recently established effective working relations with the Taliban too, while Turkey’s influence there remains difficult to assess for the time being. All three, however, have an interest in averting Afghanistan’s impending humanitarian crisis since that worst-case scenario could lead to regional refugee and terrorist outflows. They also hope to utilize that country’s crucial transregional connectivity potential.

To explain their second-mentioned interests, Russia’s concern February’s agreement to create a Pakistan-Afghanistan-Uzbekistan (PAKAFUZ) railway that could ultimately connect to Central Asia and thenceforth Russia itself for linking Eastern Europe and South Asia. Iran’s interest is derived from its eagerness to more directly connect with its new 25-year strategic partners in China via Afghanistan and Tajikistan through what can casually be referred as the “Persian Corridor”. When it comes to Turkey, its Middle Corridor through the South Caucasus and Central Asia can connect to Pakistan via Afghanistan and Turkmenistan if that South Asian state links itself to the Lapis Lazuli Corridor.

The bigger picture is that several geostrategic regions are within the ambit of trilateral cooperation between Russia, Iran, and Turkey due to their shared interests in three specific countries: West Asia (Syria), the South Caucasus (Azerbaijan), and the Central Asian-South Asian pivot space (Afghanistan). This organic convergence of strategic interests between these three civilization-state Great Powers should inspire them to finally institutionalize their trilateral cooperation by expanding it beyond Syria through the creation of a new platform aimed at coordinating their aforementioned activities across this broad swath of Eurasia.

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