Global Insights: Caspian Complexities Block Russia-Iran Naval Axis

Global Insights: Caspian Complexities Block Russia-Iran Naval Axis

The recent announcement by the deputy commander of Russia’s Caspian fleet, Nikolai Yakubovsky, that Russia and Iran intend to hold a combined naval exercise in the Caspian Sea later this year should not have come as a surprise. Not only have the two sides engaged in such joint drills in previous years, but since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the new Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic have enjoyed a surprisingly harmonious relationship regarding regional security issues.

The Iranian government has refused to intervene on behalf of the Muslim guerrillas fighting Moscow in Chechnya or in other parts of Russia. During the 1990s, moreover, Russian and Iranian diplomats cooperated in efforts to end the civil war in Tajikistan. They also aided opponents of the Taliban in Afghanistan and opposed the expansion of Turkey’s influence in their region. Many Russians perceived Tehran as a convenient partner to counter the growing U.S. influence in Eurasia.

Nevertheless, the announcement of the Caspian Sea drill should be viewed with some skepticism, as Iran and Russia are somewhat loose in what they characterize as a naval exercise. For example, in July 2009, speculation about a significant increase in Russian-Iranian defense cooperation grew after the Iranian Mehr News Agency announced that that the two countries would conduct “joint naval maneuvers” in the Caspian Sea. A closer look at the drill, however, showed that it was predominantly an Iranian affair with token Russian participation. To begin with, it took place in Iran’s territorial waters, rather than in international waters. Tellingly, the Russian government contributed only one ship, with all the helicopters and other vessels provided by Iran. The Russian state news agency ITAR-TASS later cited a Russian navy source as saying that the Russian military was not involved in the event—the lone Russian vessel participating in the training drill belonged to Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations, not the Ministry of Defense—and explicitly denying that the two countries had conducted their first joint military exercise in the Caspian Sea.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article as well as three free articles per month. You'll also receive our free email newsletter to stay up to date on all our coverage:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having your own personal researcher and analyst for news and events around the globe. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of 15,000+ articles
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday
  • Weekly in-depth reports on important issues and countries
  • Daily links to must-read news, analysis, and opinion from top sources around the globe, curated by our keen-eyed team of editors
  • Your choice of weekly region-specific newsletters, delivered to your inbox.
  • Smartphone- and tablet-friendly website.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review