European countries have made it clear in recent weeks that in light of the most serious test of EU-Russia relations in years, they’re looking to reduce their dependence on imports of natural gas from Russia.
As the Economist noted a few days ago, “an immediate casualty is likely to be Russia’s South Stream pipeline,” which was intended to bring Russian gas through the Black Sea to Europe, circumventing Ukraine. That’s good news for projects like the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, due for completion in 2018, which would bring gas from the Caucasus via Turkey, cutting Russia out of the equation altogether. Or if the current thaw in diplomatic relations continues, it could be good news for Iran. Home to the world’s second-largest natural gas reserves, the sector has been undeveloped after years of sanctions.
Perhaps reading the writing on the wall, Iranian Trade Minister Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh said yesterday that "Iran should be considered a reliable partner for natural gas supplies to Europe,” claiming that the government was looking into a pipeline to transport gas from southern Iran to Turkey.
The Ukraine crisis may also impact the ongoing international negotiations over the country’s nuclear program, where Moscow has traditionally been Iran’s primary backer. Russia’s delegate to the talks between Iran and the P5+1, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei A. Ryabkov, hinted last month that “We wouldn’t like to use these talks as an element of the game of raising the stakes. … But if they force us into that, we will take retaliatory measures here as well.”
The P5+1 have, with fits and starts, showed signs of presenting a united front on sanctions and Iran’s nuclear program. Any division in the ranks is likely to be to Iran’s advantage in the talks going forward.
Russia and Iran have even been tentatively discussing a gas trade deal that the U.S. says would go against the terms of Iran’s interim nuclear agreement.
Iran and the U.S. are currently locked in a dispute over the U.S. decision not to grant a visa to Tehran’s pick for U.N. ambassador, a participant in the 1979 taking of hostages at the U.S. embassy. I have to imagine this would be a much bigger story, both for the media and on Capitol Hill, if Russia weren’t drawing everyone’s attention right now.
If Iran somehow comes out of this looking like a distant second on the list of states seen as threatening to the EU and U.S., and can maintain its relatively cordial relationship with Russia at the same time (the Iranian government has been studiously noncommittal in its statements on the crisis), it may turn out to be one of the unlikely winners of this mess.