Asia - Pacific

Why India skipped Iran-Russia drill at last minute

Confusion about India's participation in naval drill in North Indian Ocean leads to conflicting reports

Syed Zafar Mehdi  | 20.02.2021 - Update : 21.02.2021
Why India skipped Iran-Russia drill at last minute


India’s participation in an Iran-Russia naval maneuvers in the North Indian Ocean this week has become a subject of intense speculation, with reports in Indian media rejecting the same. 

The Indian Navy in a statement Thursday said it “did not participate” in the two-day exercise, two days after top Iranian Navy officials said India requested to join the drill.

Highly placed sources told Anadolu Agency that New Delhi initially elicited interest in joining the high-profile exercise, welcomed by Tehran, but it pulled back at the last minute.

A source close to Iran's security establishment told the Turkish news agency that the Indian fleet was supposed to join the Tehran-Moscow naval drill, but "it was given another mission and canceled the plan."

Calling off the plan at the last minute, though, came as a surprise to many in Tehran.

Informed sources in Tehran cited one of the reasons as the participation of China -- currently locked in a bitter diplomatic row with India regarding a contested territory in Indian administered Kashmir.

“The details are still shrouded in obscurity but what is clear is that New Delhi didn’t want to be seen together with Beijing in the drill,” said a source.

He termed “lack of communication” between New Delhi and Tehran on the matter as a source of confusion, which led to officials of both countries issuing contradictory statements.

Iran’s Navy chief Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi said Tuesday that New Delhi had requested to join the drill in Iran's territorial waters, hailing the country as “a powerful naval force in the region.”

Amir Gholamreza Tahani, spokesman for the naval exercise, also confirmed Indian Navy’s participation, saying the flexibility of the drill allows other regional countries to take part in it.

They also announced the participation of the Chinese Navy in the drill after the Chinese New Year, which apparently did not go down well with India, leading to a change in plans, sources said.

“If India was considering [joining the drill], Iran said China could join too, then it was a no-brainer that India would not,” said another informed source.

Pertinently, reports about India’s participation in the maneuvers came days after Iranian Defense Minister Hatami’s visit to New Delhi, the first in more than four decades.

The drill, which began Tuesday, aimed to “secure collective security in the region”, according to Iranian officials, besides “securing maritime trade and fighting piracy and maritime terrorism.”

It was the second major naval exercise between Tehran and Moscow since December 2019 when the two countries, along with China, held a four-day maritime drill in southeastern Iran.

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