The intensification of the military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in recent days has overshadowed what may prove to be an equally, if not more, fateful shift in the Caucasus: the expansion of Russian and Iranian military-to-military ties, involving not only joint maneuvers in the Caspian Sea and the Gulf but also Tehran’s offer to Moscow to use three naval bases on its Gulf coast.
Many Iranian commentators and some in Moscow now are even speaking about the creation of “a Russian-Iranian military alliance” that will allow the two countries to oppose the United States’ presence in the Gulf and threaten the vital oil shipping lanes that the US has helped keep open.
Russia and Iran have been talking about expanding such ties for several years.
But in the last several weeks, their cooperation—which Tehran has celebrated in Iranian media but which Moscow has, until now, understated—appears to have assumed a more concrete form.
At least in part, this is because the United Nations’ restrictions on Iran’s importation of weapons from foreign countries, including Russia, will expire in mid-October.
Both governments hope that Russia will then be in a position to sell much-needed military systems to the Iranians without inviting further sanctions (Zavtra.ru, September 28).
Talks between Moscow and Tehran about expanding military cooperation have been going on since the summer of 2019. At that time, the two sides reportedly signed an agreement to promote such ties (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, July 30, 2019), an accord that Tehran-based outlets boasted about even as Moscow officially kept silent.
Then, in August 2020, a large Iranian military delegation came to Moscow to prepare for Iranian participation in Russia’s Kavkaz (Caucasus) 2020 military exercises and to discuss further steps toward realizing a military alliance, according to an independent Moscow military commentator Konstantin Dushenov.