Central Asia: Iran’s increasing ties with post-Soviet republics

Central Asia-Iran map
Map of Central Asia (Credits: Ghoona, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Persian Files ISSN 2975-0598 Volume 17 Issue 3
Author: Silvia Boltuc

In the wake of meeting between Iran’s First Vice President, Mohammad Mokhber, and the Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan, Akylbek Japarov, this analysis delves into the evolving landscape of Central Asia-Iran relations. The discussion, which encompassed the construction of a power plant, a refinery, and a prospective railway corridor connecting the two nations, underscores the collaborative prospects emerging within the geopolitical scenario of the region.

Background information

On October 25th, 2023, the First Vice President of Iran, Mohammad Mokhber, convened with the Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan, Akylbek Japarov, in the city of Bishkek. Within the confines of their meeting, Prime Minister Japarov requested Iran’s support in the construction of a power plant and a refinery within the borders of Kyrgyzstan.

Mokhber was in Central Asia leading a high-ranking delegation to take part in the 22nd meeting of the Council of Heads of Government of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which took place on October 26th, 2023.

At the negotiation table, where Iranian ministers of Petroleum, Transport, and Urban Development were also in attendance, the discussions further centered on advancing negotiations for the construction of a railway corridor that would link Kyrgyzstan to Iran through Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Geopolitical Scenario: Collaborative Prospects in Central Asia-Iran Relations

The SCO, originally established to coordinate efforts against terrorism, separatism, and extremism, is increasingly evolving into a platform for joint regional development among its member countries. It supports the implementation of various infrastructure projects with the participation of key Eurasian actors.

The declaration issued in July 2023 by the Council of Heads of State within the SCO, held in New Delhi, officially validated Iran’s accession to the organisation. This event signifies a pivotal juncture in the geopolitical landscape of Eurasia, carrying potential implications for regional security, economic connectivity, and global power dynamics.

Numerous statements from the SCO reaffirm the principles of multipolarity and the stance against sanctions as a coercive instrument, which have already been articulated by the Islamic Republic of Iran and, to a lesser extent, by the Central Asian republics.

Initially, both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan faced heightened scrutiny through extensive U.S. assessments, investigating potential involvement in assisting Russia to circumvent sanctions related to the Ukraine conflict. Subsequently, during the recent summer, Kyrgyzstan encountered a similar inquiry. Even though Prime Minister Japarov attempted to deflect these allegations, various sets of U.S. sanctions were imposed on Kyrgyzstani enterprises.

The current negotiations between Kyrgyzstan and Iran are part of a trend that shows growing non-oil trade between Tehran and Central Asia, demonstrating how Iran’s entry into the SCO opens up further possibilities for regional cooperation. The value of non-oil trade between the Islamic Republic and SCO member states is approximately 37 million tons of goods worth 21.736 billion dollars, marking a 10% increase in the first six months of the current Iranian fiscal year (March 21 – September 22).

Furthermore, Kyrgyzstan’s specific request for technical and engineering services from Iran underscores how the Middle Eastern country, despite years of embargoes and subsequent difficulties in acquiring know-how in various sectors and attracting investments, has managed to develop a self-sufficient industry.

Within this framework, particular attention is given to the development of the electrical network. Currently, the Iranian electrical grid is connected to Iraq, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Qatar, and connecting to Russia.

Although the expansion of the Iranian nuclear sector has raised concerns in the international community, part of that program also had a civilian purpose: domestically addressing increasing internal consumption, as the government is investing in developing areas that were previously rural; On a regional level, it aims to position Iran as an energy hub, not only through oil and gas exports if sanctions are lifted but also in the field of electricity supply.

The most recent advancement in this context pertains to the interconnection of the power grids of Iran and Qatar via a sub-sea transmission line. This development not only enhances the dependability of the power networks in both nations but also positions Iran as a significant contributor to electricity generation and distribution within the region.

The Iranian administration, under Raisi’s leadership, aims to allocate resources to infrastructure, technological advancements, and areas such as power generation and space exploration. This entails a greater engagement with energy-related matters in the Central Asian region, signifying a broader pivot towards the east in Iran’s strategic approach. While Iran keeps an open door for talks on the JCPOA, it is concurrently pursuing its primary foreign policy priorities, especially in its diplomatic engagements with Gulf monarchies and Central Asian republics.

Iran Central Asia and SCO
Central Asia-Iran and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (Credits: SpecialEurasia – Mapchart.net)


In conclusion, the geopolitical landscape in Central Asia presents a compelling case for enhanced cooperation with Iran, a nation distinguished by its abundant natural resources and a strategic location within a region of substantial commercial significance.

The shared membership in platforms like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) underscores the growing desire for collaboration. Additionally, Iran’s participation in a free trade area with the Eurasian Economic Union, which includes Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, further strengthens the foundations of economic and strategic partnerships.

The historical ties between several Central Asian states and Iran, rooted in their shared heritage dating back to the Persian Empire, are a vital component of this evolving landscape. Moreover, the Turkish-speaking nations have already established robust relations with another Shia-majority country, namely Azerbaijan, and they are all members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) alongside Iran. These connections contribute to a regional framework that transcends mere geographical proximity.

Furthermore, Central Asia has historically occupied a critical position within Russia’s lebensraum (vital space) and has increasingly become a focal point of substantial Chinese investments. Iran’s burgeoning relationship with Russia, coupled with recent agreements with China, presents the potential for regional alignment. This alignment could signify a growing chorus of discontent with the sanctions imposed by the Western world on Russia, China, and Iran, which indirectly affects the Central Asian economy.

Given the interplay of these geopolitical dynamics, it is essential for the Western world to carefully calibrate its policies. Balancing the imposition of sanctions with the maintenance of positive relations with nations of strategic importance is paramount. These nations not only play a pivotal role in regional stability but also hold considerable significance for Western interests. A prudent approach to diplomacy is warranted to ensure that the Western world can adapt to the evolving geopolitical terrain and promote mutually beneficial cooperation while safeguarding broader international stability.

Nevertheless, for Iran, it remains a matter of significance to secure relief from sanctions, although the increasing practice of conducting trade in local currencies rather than in dollars is altering some of the impacts of these Western instruments on Eurasian nations.

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