On Sunday Iran's top naval commander announced future joint military exercise in the Caspian Sea with Russia which will include rescue and anti-piracy drills to happen at an unspecified date, according to Reuters.
The semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi as saying, “Tactical, rescue and anti-piracy war games between Iranian and Russian naval forces are being planned and will be implemented in the near future.”
Both countries, which are under sanctions by the West and have stood opposite the US throughout years of war in Syria, have undertaken prior naval drills in the Caspian Sea, as recently as 2015 and 2017.
Admiral Khanzadi also said "all countries around the Caspian" oppose any military presence in the area by any non-littoral countries and added cooperation among the naval forces of the Caspian states has “tremendously deepened” in recent years. “The Caspian is the sea of peace and friendship, and all its littoral countries follow this approach,” Khanzadi asserted while emphasizing no outside foreign force can establish a presence.
The Caspian Sea is the world's largest inland body of water and is currently governed in accord with the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea, signed by the leaders of Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Iran — a convention which laid the legal foundations for the full utilization of the region’s resources and contains a plethora of trade-offs between countries.
As we reported when the convention was fully formulated and finalized last August, the military-related clauses of the document are the most important diplomatically and militarily, as they prohibit the physical presence of any third-party armed forces, along with banning the provision of a member state’s territory to acts of aggression against any other littoral state.
Since Russia is by far the most powerful nation in terms of both general military clout and military presence around the Caspian, this serves to placate Russian fears about any potential US or other encroachment in the area.
The newly announced joint Russian-Iranian naval exercises are meant to signal and remind the West of this, however, since the games come at a time of heightened US-Iran tension, as well as when US and UK leaders are pushing a "new Cold War" narrative, the headlines will no doubt be met in the West with alarm. But around the Caspian, and by agreement of bordering Caspian states, it's actually just business as usual.