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Russia and China Display Solidarity With Iran in Recent Joint Military Exercises

Vladimir Putin and President of China Xi Jinping took part in the opening ceremony of the Russia-China Naval Interaction 2014 joint exercises at the Usun naval military base.
Vladimir Putin and President of China Xi Jinping took part in the opening ceremony of the Russia-China Naval Interaction 2014 joint exercises at the Usun naval military base. (Photo: Kremlin.ru)

Less than two weeks prior to the U.S.’ controversial killing of Iranian General Qassim Suleimani, Iran joined Russia and China for four days of joint naval exercises.

In the wake of the assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, questions surrounding the possibility of a third world war have loomed in the hearts and minds of people across the globe. In anticipation of a global conflict, observers such as Yaroslav Trofimov at The Wall Street Journal have attempted to make early predictions on which nations would side with Iran. 

Trofimov quoted Karim Sadjadpour, Iran specialist for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “Iran is one of the most strategically lonely countries in the world. It considers dozens of countries around the world its adversary, and its only reliable friend has been the Assad regime in Syria.”

In his WSJ piece, Trofimov continued that Russia and China “have no appetite for exposing themselves to the risks of a possible confrontation.”

Actions taken by Beijing and Moscow suggest otherwise, however. Prior to the U.S. attack in Baghdad, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif made rounds visiting his Asian superpower counterparts. According to Newsweek, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said stability in the Persian Gulf was the focal point of his discussions with Zarif. 

“Russia and Iran advocate pooling the efforts of all interested states to ensure security and stability in this region,” Lavrov said.

His words were an illumination on 4 days of joint military exercises between the three nations, a first-ever occurrence.

“The message of this exercise is peace, friendship and lasting security through cooperation and unity … and its effect will be to show that Iran cannot be isolated,” Iranian Rear Adm. Gholamreza Tahani said in a televised speech.

The military exercises failed at deterring an attack on Suleimani ordered by U.S. President Donald Trump and may have in fact provoked it as the Trump administration and U.S. Department of State struggled to justify a move Tehran considered an act of war.

Russia and China were already linked to Iran as signatories to the Obama-era Iranian nuclear agreement. France is also a member of the deal, which Iran said it would no longer abide by in its entirety on Sunday. 

Amélie de Montchalin, French Secretary of State for European Affairs, said French President Emmanuel Macron would consult with the regional actors in an attempt to deescalate the conflict. 

“In such operations, when we can see an escalation is underway, what we want above all is stability and deescalation,” Montchalin said, according to The Times of Israel. “Our role is not to take sides, but to talk with everyone,” de Montchalin told RTL radio.

The problem, however, is that sides are already penciled in for China and Russia. Both have pointed their fingers at Washington for botching the Iranian nuclear deal since talks fell through. Although Beijing and Moscow maintained a similar tone as European states calling for cooler heads to prevail, their flex of military power in solidarity with Iran demonstrated they could emerge as Iranian allies, should the crisis devolve into war.

Geng Shuang, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, denied the naval exercises were a result of the situation between the U.S. and Iran. The timing, however, raises eyebrows as the drills came after Washington deployed more troops to the region. 

China and Russia have also aligned with North Korea after presenting a resolution before the United Nations Security Council which would provide sanctions relief. Although the resolution is destined to be vetoed by the U.S., it was another sign that Trump’s economic and military strategies have united two nations, both of which could lend significant military power toward backing Iran in an armed conflict.

In a hypothetical wartime scenario, it is entirely possible the two could back down and let the U.S. have its way. At this juncture, participants in the conflict can only be judged on their words and limited actions. 

Daniel Davis

Daniel Davis is Managing Editor for The Osage County Herald-Chronicle in Kansas and also covers International news for Inside Over, a Milan-based global affairs publication. He graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Outside of writing, he enjoys photography and one day hopes to return to video production. Learn more about him at his website danieldavis.la.

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  1. Perseus January 8, 2020

    They shouldn’t and I think they wouldn’t. Better for the world to have more than one center of power. There would be tension, but there would also be balance.


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