Russia, China and Iran will kick off a joint naval exercise in the northern Indian Ocean this month, the Kremlinâ€™s ambassador to Iran said Monday.
Ambassador Levan Dzhagaryan toldÂ Russiaâ€™s RIA news agency that the exercises would include search and rescueÂ and shippingÂ safety drills.
In December 2019, the three countriesÂ held a joint naval exerciseÂ in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of OmanÂ as tensions escalated between Washington and Tehran.
Six months prior to that exercise, two civilian oil tankers were bombed in an attackÂ the United States blamed on Iranâ€™s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), though officials in Tehran denied responsibility.
The attack led Gulf countries and Western allies led by the United States to form an international naval security task force, known as Task Force Sentinel, to deter harassment and seizures of maritime vessels in the Persian Gulf region.
IranÂ seized a South Korean tankerÂ in the Persian Gulf in January, citing an â€œenvironmental pollutionâ€ violation. ObserversÂ suspected the seizureÂ may have been related to Seoulâ€™s freezing of some $7 billion in Iranian oil revenue after the Trump administration tightened sanctions on Iranian oil exports.
Last month IndonesiaÂ seized two tankers, one Iranian-owned and the other owned by a company in Shanghai, accusing them of transferring illegal oil between the ships. Indonesiaâ€™s coast guard denied the seizure was related to US sanctions.
With its economy suffering in recent years amid sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, Iran has sought to ship petroleum to Venezuela and Syria, two countries also under heavy US sanctions.
Last year, the United StatesÂ worked with authorities in Cape Verde to seizeÂ Iranian-owned fuelÂ onboard four tankers bound for VenezuelaÂ in what theÂ US Justice Department said was the largest seizure of Iranian petroleum shipments to date. US federal prosecutors alleged the fuel was shipped on behalf of the IRGC, which the Trump administration designated a terrorist organization in 2019. The United StatesÂ hasÂ seized some $7 millionÂ worth of Iranian assets in its crackdown on Tehran’sÂ attempts to evade US sanctions.
The United StatesÂ has also put on aÂ military show of forceÂ in the Persian Gulf region in recent months amid threats of revenge fromÂ Iranian leaders for the death of Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani in a US drone strike in January 2020. Iran has since conducted itsÂ own military exercises, including naval missile drills,Â in the Gulf of Oman.
On Monday, the commander of US military forces in the Middle East, Gen. Kenneth â€œFrankâ€ McKenzie, signaled thatÂ Iran’s activities remain theÂ United States’ greatest concern in the region. He also said Russia seeksÂ toÂ expand its influenceÂ in the Middle East viaÂ transactional relationshipsÂ with regional governments.
The commander has previously described Russia’s inroads in the Middle EastÂ as opportunistic, and suggested China mayÂ poseÂ a greater long-term threat to US dominance in the region. Late last year,Â Russia held joint naval exercisesÂ with Egypt in the Black Sea for the first time.Â
In its final weeks, the Trump administrationÂ internally debated cutting off all US military aid to EgyptÂ overÂ Cairo’s purchaseÂ of Russia’s Su-35 fighter aircraft, but wound up deciding not to do so.
The US administration of President Joe Biden is seeking to reenter the 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran, but Iranian leaders have said WashingtonÂ must first lift sanctions. Russia has expressed support for Tehran’s position.