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Iran-Russia joint maneuver in the Caspian Sea: who is the hypothetical enemy?

Opinion Article by Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD International Law of the Sea

The biggest enemy of Iran in the Caspian Sea is Russia. The Russians are supporting a method for delimitation of maritime territories in the Caspian Sea which is directly contrary to the positions and interests and even claims of Iran. At the same time, the naval forces of Russia and Iran recently conducted a joint naval maneuver in the Caspian Sea. Every military maneuver has a hypothetical enemy. Who was the hypothetical enemy in this maneuver in the light of the above- mentioned situation?

Related Article: Photos: Russian Navy Vessels Visit Iran Before Heading To Azerbaijan

Iran and Russia have serious conflicting positions about the new legal regime of the Caspian Sea. Russians believe that the Caspian Seabed should be divided according to a modified median line (MML), and the waters of the Caspian Sea should be left as common for the use of all five littoral states. They have already acted on this idea and they have entered into agreements with Azerbaijan Republic and Kazakhstan for dividing the Caspian Seabed according to the MML. Iran has not accepted the legitimacy of these agreements and Iran considers them as violation of previous accords of the littoral states and ignoring the historical rights of Iran as one of the only two countries that existed there before the disintegration of the USSR. The only country that seriously opposes the idea of MML is Iran because using that criterion, the share of Iran from the Caspian Seabed will be less than 13 percent. Iran wants delimitation of the Caspian Seabed according to equity which in the eyes of Iran is 20 percent for each.

A look at the remarks of Russian and Iranian officials during the maneuver and a short while before that in the last Summit of Caspian States in Russia (29 September 2014) indicate that the hypothetical enemy in this maneuver is “the Western countries and companies”. In other words, the national interests of Iran in the Caspian Sea, has no place in the philosophy of the joint maneuver. What Russians want is preventing and limiting the presence of the Western countries (especially the NATO) in the Caspian Sea because it may threaten the monopoly of the Russians in the Caspian Sea.

So, what is there for Iran? If the issue of sanctions against Iran are solved or reduced, Iran in order to exploit its oil and gas resources in the Caspian Sea (Iranian side of the Caspian Sea in the deepest part of it) will need capital and technology which the Russians need as well. Also, Iran as the country that has the second biggest gas reserves in the world can be a good replacement for the Russians in the EU gas market and make huge profits from this.

It seems that the only concern of Iran from the presence of the non-littoral states in the Caspian Sea is related to the presence of forces that may be used against the regime of Iran in case the current measures for reduction of tensions in the Iran-West relations fail.

Therefore, we can say the joint maneuver of Iran’s outdated naval boats that can hardly play the role of a coast guard, with the most advanced Russian naval units, in the Caspian Sea has various messages and addressees:

1- Russia to Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan: do not let the Western powers be active in the Caspian Sea. Do not go after strengthening your navies using the Western countries and NATO; do not provide facilities for the Western companies in the region. Russians have threatened in the past that if the other Caspian states go after the trans-Caspian gas pipeline without Russian consent, they make take all actions including military measures against them. In the light of developments in Georgia, Ukraine, these threats are taken seriously.

2- Iran and Russia to Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan: do not let your Caspian sectors be used to attack Iran.

3- Russia to Iran: Russia is not going to tolerate the Iranian doctrine of the Caspian Sea. Iran has to be content with the smallest share of the Caspian Sea and not make trouble. Do not think about replacing Russia in the gas exports to the EU.

... Payvand News - 10/27/14 ... --

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