As former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani finds himself squarely engulfed in the Ukraine scandal and impeachment inquiry surrounding President Donald Trump, one piece of the puzzle simply does not seem to fit.
If anything is a given about contemporary Republican Party foreign policy, it is a hawkish stance on Iran. That unified front is led by a president who pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal and continues to impose new sanctions against Tehran. Giuliani, too, talks tough towards the Iranians — most recently backing regime change and declaring “down with the tyrants in Iran” when he spoke at a rally outside U.N. headquarters in September.
Yet Giuliani was on the cusp of making a paid appearance at the Armenian-hosted conference of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), a gathering held October 1st–2nd amid the formalization of Iran’s future membership in that Russian-led trade alliance that consists of five former Soviet republics. Although Giuliani ultimately cancelled his 2019 EAEU appearance, he attended the same conference last year and is coming under rising scrutiny for his mysterious overseas travel — including to Armenia.
Created to counter the influence of the European Union, the EAEU’s anti-Western approach is particularly apparent through its embrace of Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. After the Moscow-based EAEU reached a free trade deal with the Iranians last year, EAEU member Armenia this past April signed a memorandum of understanding on customs cooperation with Iran in which the two countries agreed to exchange information on the value of goods and vehicles transported through their shared border. In other words, commerce between Tehran and Yerevan flows without restrictions.
On a broader strategic level, both the free trade and customs deals were envisioned as pillars of a bridge linking Iran, the EAEU, and the EU. The final pillar will be cemented on October 27th, when Iran formally joins the EAEU and gains the ability to have its goods “exported to [Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia] with almost zero tariffs,” according to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Simultaneously, Iran is prepared to increase the natural gas its supplies to Armenia, Rouhani said at the EAEU conference.
It should come as no surprise that the rapid growth of EAEU-Iran ties is spearheaded by Armenia, the only EAEU member which shares a border with Iran. Armenia is also the only EAEU state which maintains a “Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement” with the EU, meaning that the warm economic ties between Tehran and Yerevan could have a domino effect throughout Europe.
Further, Armenia has a long and ongoing history of offering Iran an escape route from international sanctions. Reuters has reported that Armenian banks help the Iranian regime “obfuscate payments to and from foreign clients and deceive Western intelligence agencies trying to prevent it from expanding its nuclear and missile programs.” In August, the U.S. levied sanctions on two Armenian companies over their business ties with Iran. And upon meeting with Rouhani at the EAEU gathering, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan affirmed that despite U.S. sanctions, Armenia’s “relations with Iran must be beyond geopolitical influences.”
All of which brings us to the recent EAEU conference, where Giuliani was set to participate in a panel led by Sergey Glazyev, a longtime adviser to Russian President Vladimiar Putin who has been subjected to U.S. sanctions since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014. Giuliani had been the only American scheduled to speak at the gathering.
How did this former Republican presidential candidate make his way onto an anti-Western conference’s agenda this year, while actually attending the same summit last year? According to ProPublica, Giuliani’s 2018 EAEU appearance was funded by Ara Abramyan, chair of the Union of Russian Armenians and president of the World Armenian Congress.
Abramyan also sits on the advisory board of TriGlobal Strategic Ventures, which has been organizing trips to Russia and Ukraine since 2004 for the ex-mayor’s Giuliani Partners, and has been described by The New York Times as “a company that provides image consulting to Russian oligarchs and clients with deep Kremlin ties.”
Before he cancelled his 2019 EAEU appearance, Giuliani had quipped in comments to The Washington Post that he would “try to not knowingly talk to a Russian until this is all over.” Yet it is no laughing matter. By opening the door to free trade, the EAEU has set in motion a slippery slope that may lead Iranian businesses directly to the EU. It is a nightmare scenario in which anti-West meets West, and shockingly, one of its enablers is a high-profile Republican who is presumably aligned with his peers when it comes to cracking down on Iranian aggression.
That is why despite his eventual pullout from the EAEU conference, the question remains: Why would Giuliani even consider attending?
Jesse Bogner is an author and journalist. His memoir and social critique, The Egotist, has been translated into five languages. His work has been featured in The Daily Caller, MSN, and The Huffington Post.