Russia expands ties with Iran to counter Turkish influence around Caspian

In response to the increased Turkish influence in the region, Russia is expanding its naval activities in the Caspian region to address its presence as a force to be acknowledged.

Hence, in military terms, Moscow is cooperating with Tehran, another regional power that also has concerns over the implications of growing Turkish influence, Eurasia analyst Paul Goble said in an article, published by the Jamestown Foundation on Thursday.

Turkey has strategically gained power in the region, in the aftermath of Azerbaijan’s victory against Armenia over the Nagorno Karabakh dispute, which was resolved in November with a Russian brokered ceasefire, following six weeks of clashes. Turkey now has direct access to the Caspian Sea - a significant oil and natural gas reserve.

Russia is most immediately alarmed with Turkey’s “enthusiasm for trans-Caspian natural gas pipelines, something that could undercut Russia’s ability to dominate that market,” Goble said, adding that in recent weeks, Russia and Iran conducted two naval exercises in the hydrocarbon-rich central and southern parts of the Caspian Sea.

However, Moscow’s actions in turn have been a cause for alarm for Azerbaijan, the main “beneficiary” of  Turkey’s regional influence, Goble said.

As a response to the Russian exercise, Goble said that Baku readied its own naval force to defend pipelines and other energy infrastructures in the Caspian Sea.

According to the analyst, Iran does not have a noteworthy naval presence in the Caspian Sea, but in early February, Alireza Tangisiri, the commander of the naval forces of the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guard Corps announced that the country is building larger armed vessels, “which will help make Iran a true naval power.”

Moscow could take the advantage of such a development, Goble said, as a larger Iranian naval force in the Caspian could restrain the Turkish influence, while reducing the responsibility of the Russian navy in the Persian Gulf in terms of countering the United States fleet.

“As a result, some in Moscow are now asking what Russian shipbuilding industry could do to help Tehran,” he said.

“Moscow would like the Iranian fleet there to be strong enough to help Russia contain Turkey but not so strong as to be in a position to promote Tehran’s plans for an expanded Iranian empire including Armenia, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and other lands to its north,” he also said, citing Aleksandr Timokhin, a Moscow security analyst.