Through his recent decision to decertify the nuclear agreement with Iran, President Donald Trump empowered Congress to decide whether to reimpose American sanctions against the Islamic Republic, lifted in 2015. But if Trump truly wishes to unravel the nuclear accord brokered by the preceding administration, he must look beyond the U.S. and Iran, who represent just two players in a complex web of entanglement.
Although not much that Iran says can be trusted, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was actually spot-on when he asserted after Trump’s decertification announcement, “This is an international, multilateral deal. It is not a document between Iran and the United States that he can treat the way that he likes.”
Indeed, Trump cannot single-handedly tank this deal. To start, the president need look further than America’s fellow members that negotiated the agreement, the P5+1: China, France, Germany, Russia, and the U.K. In particular, the Russians are enthusiastic cheerleaders for the accord, with Moscow’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov lamenting after Trump’s move that America has “aggravated” the “loss of mutual trust” in the world. Further, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley recently suggested that Russia has been protecting Iran by blocking the International Atomic Energy Agency watchdog from verifying parts of the nuclear deal.
Why does Russia go to such lengths, in words and actions, to defend the nuclear deal? Of course, it’s the two primary motivations that drive nations like Russia: money and power.
In August, Iran and Russia signed a $2.5 billion deal to launch a rail wagon production operation. Lukoil, Russia’s second-largest oil producer, is seeking to develop two new oil fields in Iran, while another Russian company, Zarubezhneft, signed a memorandum of understanding to conduct feasibility studies on two Iranian gas fields.
Meanwhile, Russia has been actively involved in Syria’s gruesome civil war since 2015, working closely with Iran in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The Iranians are continuously vying to entrench their military presence in Syria, primarily by funding and arming proxies such as the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.
But a country with an end goal as lofty as Russia’s—to outfox America and become the world’s leading powerhouse—cannot accomplish its objective alone. Borrowing a page from the Cold War-era Soviet playbook, Moscow enlists its satellite nations in this quest, and perhaps no nation can be defined as a vassal as Armenia.
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan stated he and Russian President Vladimir Putin focus on the “coordination of foreign policy.” Yerevan’s consulate in Los Angeles uses even stronger words, declaring that Armenia “is consistent in strengthening and deepening the special partnership and allied relationship with Russia.” Notably, this comes from an Armenian Consulate in America, not in Moscow and, conspicuously, the Armenian Consul General is a Russian citizen and a well-known Russian oligarch.
In exchange for its loyalty, Armenia receives perks such as advanced aircraft and a $200 million weapons credit, both Russia bestowed upon Armenia in February. Armenia has reaped the benefits of its unholy alliance with Russia and Iran not just recently, but for decades, including when Moscow and Tehran each provided material support—while Russia also provided troops—to Yerevan during the Nagorno-Karabakh War a quarter-century ago.
Today, while the Kremlin purports to mediate the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh as part of the OSCE Minsk Group, the Russians instead keep the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh alive by maintaining military bases in Armenia and selling arms to Yerevan via loans from Moscow and at deeply discounted prices.
In Congress, meanwhile, Armenian-occupied Nagorno-Karabakh—clearly identified as Azerbaijani territory in U.N. resolutions—receives undue financial and diplomatic support. In September, the House adopted an amendment to back continued funding of the HALO Trust’s demining activity in Nagorno-Karabakh. Additionally, Reps. David Valadao (R-Calif.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), and Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) recently visited Nagorno-Karabakh, sending the message that Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity means nothing to them. The U.S. treats Georgia and Ukraine, comparable situations, differently. A member of Congress visiting Crimea, Eastern Ukraine or South Ossetia is unthinkable. One has to wonder what kind of charm Armenians and their puppet masters in Moscow are working on these American lawmakers.
By keeping Armenia in its orbit, Russia is able to strategically deploy its vassal for other purposes—where Iran comes into the picture. The Russians have introduced a plan to use Armenia as the connector for their regional power grid extending to Iran, while Armenia’s Sargsyan in March said Yerevan sees “great potential in becoming a transit route towards Iran and the Persian Gulf.”
America needs to first understand, and subsequently thwart, this “transit route.” It lies at the heart of an Iranian-Russian-Armenian nexus that will continue to bolster Tehran. Even if Congress reinstates the U.S. sanctions removed by the nuclear deal, Iran will not lose economic leverage on the global stage as long as it has partners like Russia and Armenia.
Even without Russia’s involvement, Iran and Armenia share warm direct ties in diplomacy, culture, and business. But when it comes to Trump’s effort to roll back the Iranian nuclear deal, the greater concern is the broader tripartite alliance between Tehran, Moscow, and Yerevan. Intricate webs of influence are much more difficult to tackle than simple bilateral relationships. That is why the U.S., if it wants to make real progress towards dismantling both the nuclear agreement and Iran’s destabilizing behavior, must start dealing with this problem today, including rogue members of Congress.
Jacob Kamaras is an editor for the Jewish News Service, and is noted for his work on the Middle East and American politics. His writing has appeared in FoxNews.com, the Washington Times, Independent Journal Review, The American Spectator, and CNS News.