Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps is establishing a naval presence on the Caspian Sea, suggesting that Tehran is placing a greater emphasis on security in the Caspian region. An Iranian naval official announced on Saturday that the IGRC Navy is setting up a training center on the Caspian, "tasked with training the IRGC Navy vessel crews to enable them conduct the necessary maneuvers in the Caspian Sea waters," the official said, according to the Fars News Agency.
As Fars points out, security in the Caspian has previously been entrusted to the regular navy, while the IRGC Navy has had responsibility for the Persian Gulf. But that looks to be changing: "The IRGC Navy which is now responsible for defending the country's territorial waters in the Persian Gulf is also expanding its activities in the Caspian Sea, although security of Iran's Caspian waters has been entrusted on the Army's naval force."
This announcement comes soon after Iran and Russia announced their intention to conduct joint exercises on the Caspian, and as Iran is conducting its own drills on the sea "to display Iran's power of safeguarding the country's territorial waters."
Alex Vatanka, an Iran security expert at the Middle East Institute, told The Bug Pit that the move is likely targeted toward Azerbaijan, which has a quiet dispute with Iran over the two countries' boundaries in the sea -- in particular the hydrocarbon resources in the disputed region:
I would not take the IRGC development too lightly. The IRGC cadre are by nature more brazen as compared to the regular navy so it might just lead to some more localized tension vis-a-vis other littoral states. Of course, Azerbaijan is the one stands out and no doubt one of the key targets with such a move. Iran has also recently announced more hydrocarbon discoveries in the Caspian and I suspect protecting its economic interests will be a factor pointed to when Iran justifies a stronger naval presence. That said, I don't think this means Iran is on a strategic level turning the Caspian into a new frontline. No, I see it as a tactical move to press Baku and in general give Iran more leverage in terms of the future of the Caspian.
Recently there also has been a notable media blitz in Iran's media about Caspian security issues, in addition to the stories linked above see here, here, and here. All this points to an intriguing new chapter in the story of the Caspian naval race.