Russia & Iran To Hold Naval Drill in Caspian Sea

During an Iranian port call, a Russian commander said the two navies will participate in an exercise later this year.

Russia and Iran's navies plan to hold a joint exercise in the Caspian Sea the Russian-based RIA Novosti reported on Friday, citing a Russian military commander.

Nikolai Yakubovsky, deputy commander of Russia’s Caspian Flotilla, said the two countries intended to hold a joint naval exercise in the second half of 2013.

He made the announcement during meetings with Iranian commanders who were visiting the port of Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea. Iranian media reported that “Iran has dispatched two indigenously-built missile-launching warships to Astrakhan,” likely referring to Sina Class missile boats or one possibly one of Iran’s two Moudge class frigates, which is reportedly stationed in the Caspian Sea.

The Sina Class missile boats are replicas of the La Combattante IIa fast attack ships that Iran has been operating under the name Kaman Class since before the revolution. Two of the Kaman Class ships were sunk during the 1980s; one by Iraq and one by the United States. The Sina Class ships are reportedly equipped with Chinese-802 anti-ship missiles and employ fire control radar.

Earlier in the week, the Iranian Navy’s deputy commander for operations, Admiral Siavash Jareh, said of the port call: “Given that the Caspian Sea is known as a sea of peace and tranquility, conveying the message of peace and friendship to countries bordering this sea, particularly the country of Russia, and displaying the naval might of the Navy and increasing the knowledge and experience of its young members are other purposes of the dispatch of the fleet of warships to Russia.”

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The current port call follows two previous ones Russian warships made to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas along the Persian Gulf. The first one took place in December of last year and reportedly included the Marshal Shaposhnikov, a Russian Udaloy-class destroyer. Then, in April, three Russian ships from the Pacific Fleet docked in Bandar Abbas Port while en route to the Mediterranean Sea. This second flotilla reportedly consisted of Russia’s Admiral Panteleyev destroyer and two transport ships.

Iran and Russia also held a joint naval drill in the Caspian Sea back in 2009.

However, Iran and Russia have often been at odds over the Caspian Sea in the past. Indeed, a year ago the Russian government took steps to block Iranian companies from buying a 25 percent stake in the Astrakhan Port the Iranian warships docked at last week. They did so by using UN Security Council sanctions enacted against Iran to impede progress on its nuclear program, which the West believes is aimed at a nuclear weapon, a charge Iranian officials deny.

“We know that these companies, through a certain chain, are under the direct control of the government or structures close to the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” a Russian official said at the time, adding “Ports are strategic assets.”

The port calls and forthcoming exercise highlight the closer alignment between Russia and Iran that has largely come about as a result of the situation in Syria.

The Financial Times reported last week that Iran, Russia, and China are propping up the Bashar al-Assad regime through a number of measures, including allowing al-Assad to conduct all his business using their three currencies. One of the Syrian leader’s deputy prime ministers told the newspaper that in order to help the regime evade international sanctions, the three countries are also supplying US$500 million a month in oil and extending credit lines to Damascus.