guest post by Jill Marie Parillo, Physicians for Social Responsibility
Caspian MapYesterday Russia, Iran’s strongest Security Council ally in the nuclear debate, agreed to a two-day joint naval exercise with Iran in the Caspian Sea.  As the United States’ influence is on the rise in the Middle East, Russia looks to be balancing out power by tightening its alliance with Iran.
For nearly a hundred years, Russia blocked the use of the Caspian’s Volga channel for oil and gas exports from boundary states Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.  Not surprisingly this exercise is called “Regional Collaboration for a Secure and Clean Caspian,” since Russia always claimed that Iran could not use the waterway, since it damaged the environment.
This is also about a “Secure” Caspian, after all this is a military exercise.  Iran could become a partner with Russia in patrolling the Caspian Sea. With 30 naval vessels and 2 helicopters planned for the operation, the Russian-Iranian exercise looks to be modeled after the US established Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). PSI members Russia and Iran will try out a few learned PSI tricks to integrate their own operational capabilities at sea.
Russia’s growing alliance with Iran will undoubtedly influence the nuclear debate. Russia is the only permanent Security Council member that openly rejected new sanctions on Iran starting in September 2008. “We think [more sanctions are] not timely, we think that more discussions are necessary with the Iranians and that there is still room for diplomacy here,” said Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin on September 26, 2008.
Russia quickly congratulated Ahmadinejad on his contested win of the Presidency in Iran this June, while the United States has delayed recognizing the election results. Russia is now strategically partnering with Iran, while the United States is debating whether to go ahead with diplomacy or to press for more sanctions.  If the Russian trend continues, though, the United States will continue to find an unwilling partner in its pursuit of additional Security Council pressure on Iran in the months ahead.

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