Russian Senator: Iran Tensions are Part of U.S. Plan to Expand Military in Middle East

A senior Russian lawmaker has laid out what he said was a U.S. plan to use current tensions with Iran to expand the Pentagon's presence in the Middle East.

Russian Senator Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the lower house of parliament's foreign affairs committee, wrote Saturday in a lengthy Facebook post that "it is clear by now who is going to use the escalation of tensions in the Strait of Hormuz and in the Middle East on the whole."

He then attempted to piece together recent events involving unrest in the Persian Gulf, claiming they served as part of a U.S. plot to enhance its own regional defense posture.

"The Pentagon just approved the transfer of troops to Saudi Arabia. The U.S. also announced the development of an international operation aimed to 'defend the navigation in the Middle East in light of recent events in the Persian Gulf region,'" Kosachev wrote. "The goals of the United States are clear."

"First, it is necessary to stir up tensions around Iran, and Tehran actively 'plays along,' in particular with the seizure of a British tanker," Kosachev argued, referencing the Revolutionary Guards' detainment Friday of the U.K.-flagged Stena Impero after it allegedly defied regulations while sailing through the Strait of Hormuz. "Secondly, the key task is to make Iran a problem not just for Washington, which is fixated on that, but for the widest possible range of states."

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A formation of Avenger-class mine countermeasure ships USS Devastator, USS Gladiator, USS Sentry, USS Dextrous, the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Mason and an MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter maneuver in the Persian Gulf, July 6. Warships assigned to the Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group were among the additional military assets deployed to the Middle East in response to alleged threats posed by Iran. Antonio Gemma Moré/5th Fleet/U.S. Naval Forces Central Command

The seizure came weeks after the U.K. captured Iran's own Panamanian-flagged Grace 1 supertanker as it was accused of attempting to transport oil to Syria via Gibraltar, allegedly violating European Union sanctions. Referencing this seizure, Kosachev argued that "Great Britain was the first to join in by starting a 'war with tankers' with Tehran."

At the same time, "the recent operation by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to seize the U.K.-flagged Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz has certainly added to the concerns of other important international players—Germany and France have already expressed their concerns," he wrote. "They are also likely to support the Pentagon's international maritime Operation Sentinel to ensure the security of key waterways in the Middle East."

After sending a carrier strike group, bomber task force and additional troops to the region, the U.S. announced its intention to establish a global coalition of states in response to what it claims were Iranian threats to commercial traffic in the Persian Gulf and Kosachev said Saturday "how rapidly its development was announced confirms the assumption that the United States was just waiting for a reason to strengthen its military presence in the region."

Washington has accused Tehran of being behind recent attacks against oil tankers in the nearby Gulf of Oman and of previously attempting to seize the British Heritage weeks ago. Iranian officials denied targeting foreign vessels, but did detain last week a smaller UAE-based vessel last week accused of smuggling fuel and have vowed to retaliate in response to the U.K.' seizure earlier this month of Iranian supertanker Grace I after it was suspected to have tried to transport oil to Syria, a violation of European Union sanctions.

The past month has also seen the Revolutionary Guards shoot down a U.S. Navy drone that they claimed entered Iranian airspace, while President Donald Trump announced that Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Boxer took out an Iranian unmanned aerial device said to have been harassing the warship. Iran has denied the latter incident took place and released footage Friday purported to prove it, while the Revolutionary Guards have already dismissed the Pentagon's evidence claiming to link them to attacks against two tankers in the Gulf of Oman June.

Moscow has viewed Tehran as a strategic partner in the Middle East and the two have worked together in support the Syrian government against an eight-year rebel and jihadi insurgency. Russia also joined China, the EU, France, Germany and the signing a nuclear deal forged by the U.S. and Iran in 2015 and abandoned last year by President Donald Trump in a decision that set the stage for current tensions.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attend a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Council in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, June 14. Russia and China have largely held the U.S. responsible for ratcheting up tensions with Iran by leaving the nuclear deal and imposing strict sanctions. VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/Getty Images

Despite the worsening situation, Kosachev said that the formation of a U.S.-led security group in the Persian Gulf would not "sharply increase the likelihood of a military conflict—neither Iran nor the United States, by and large, are interested in a real war." Still, he said "the 'game of nerves' and overbidding will continue, and here the factor of chance and its interpretation by the parties, as well as the provocation of third forces, becomes the most dangerous."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov have repeatedly warned that a conflict could erupt at any time due to the U.S.' actions in the Persian Gulf. China too has accused the U.S. of putting undue pressure on the Islamic Republic.

"Of course, no one can forbid the United States to conduct its maneuvers in international waters, but history teaches that the emergence of American military groups in any region has long been not so much a factor of security as an increased risk of conflict," Kosachev continued on Saturday, noting the U.S.' unprecedented decision in April to label the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization and Iran responding by branding the Pentagon's Central Command with the same label.

"We watch the continuation of this 'positional war' with an equivocal continuation, still hoping for the sides' common sense, not the most reliable component in the entire configuration," he concluded.