Strategic intention of Russia-Iran joint naval exercise in Indian Ocean

China Military Online
Li Jiayao
2021-02-20 18:12:29

By Fang Xiaozhi

The joint Iranian-Russian naval drills, codenamed "Iran-Russia Maritime Security Belt 2021", were held on February 15, 2021, in the northern parts of the Indian Ocean, with the aim of intensifying regional security and expanding bilateral cooperation, reported Russian news agency Sputnik.

Russia is Iran's traditional ally, and the two countries have common interests in the Middle East. The Russian-Iran joint naval exercises in the Indian Ocean are an important step to strengthen their military cooperation in the current international security situation and to support each other in coping with global challenges, especially threats from the US.

For Russia, closer cooperation with Iran can cement its interests in the Middle East and ease the NATO-imposed security pressure it faces in Europe. Russia has been exposed to sanctions from US-led western countries ever since the Crimea event in 2014. Biden vowed to mend US relations with allies and has talked over the phone with leaders of several NATO members, including the UK, France, and Germany, soon after he took office, discussing a unified anti-Moscow policy that covers the military front. Under such circumstances, Russia urgently needs a sally point to fight back and break through the containment.

The joint naval exercises in the Indian Ocean with Iranian forces were a well-thought move that could kill two birds with one stone. On the one hand, it won't upset the US-led NATO too much, thus leaving some room for future dialogue and negotiation; on the other hand, Russia can showcase its military strength through the exercise to deter NATO and foil NATO’s all-round containment by breaking through the blockade in the Middle East, embodying masterly strategic finesse.

Iran, having been sanctioned by the US and antagonized by certain Middle Eastern countries for a long time, also needs Russia's help. As a major country in the Middle East, Teheran used to be America's most important ally in the region. Still, bilateral relations fell into a deadlock after the Pahlavi dynasty was overthrown and further plummeted to a freezing point after the US military assassinated Iran’s senior military officer Soleimani. Today's Teheran is Washington’s arch-rival in the Middle East.

To bend Iran down on its knees, the US has been suppressing it across the board by increasing its military presence and deploying troops around the country, putting Iran's security situation at risk. Given such a background, the arrival of a Russian flotilla was a robust backing for Teheran, which announced that the joint exercises proved Moscow to be its most reliable strategic ally. It also said the two countries would carry out anti-submarine subjects targeting American aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships aimed at countering the US naval forces perennially stationed in the Indian Ocean. This obviously draws a line for America’s future activities in the Middle East and aims to force Washington to think twice before taking military actions.

The US-Russia rivalry will likely continue for a long time to come, and Washington will keep stepping up military pressure on Tehran. Driven by the common strategic goal of standing up against the US. As a result, Russia and Iran will need each other's support, including deepening and expanding the defense cooperation.

(The author is a researcher at the Centre for Asia-Pacific Development Studies, Nanjing University.)

Editor's note: This article is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of


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