Iran, Russia, China To Run War Drills in Latin America

Chinese president Xi Jinping and Russian president Vladimir Putin (Wikimedia Commons)
July 5, 2022

Iran, Russia, and China are gearing up to run a series of major war drills in Latin America in a show of force meant to signal how these militaries can reach the United States.

Venezuela, under the leadership of anti-U.S. socialist president Nicolás Maduro, is scheduled to host the war games in mid-August, according to a report by the Center for a Secure Free Society, a think tank that tracks malign regimes. Along with 10 other nations, Russia, China, and Iran will move their militaries into the Western Hemisphere for war drills that will "preposition forward-deployed military assets in Latin America and the Caribbean."

The war games, known as the Sniper Frontier competition, show that these malign regime from across the globe are uniting and "getting ready to make a loud statement that the region is ready to embrace the multipolar force," according to the think-tank report, which focuses on Latin America's embrace of authoritarian regimes. A key portion of Russia's "military is prepping to bring, for the first time, some of these military games to the Western Hemisphere"—even as Moscow is bogged down with war in Ukraine.

The war drills are one of the starkest signs to date that Latin America's coalition of anti-U.S. regimes is working to boost relations with Russia, China, and Iran. Maduro recently wrapped up a diplomatic tour of the Middle East in which he inked a 20-year strategic deal with Iran that laid the groundwork for an Iranian oil tanker to dock in Venezuela and offload Tehran's illicit crude. "The strategic deal between Iran and Venezuela is meant to mirror similar strategic agreements that the Islamic Republic signed with China and Russia in recent years," according to the think-tank report. Latin American regimes also are inking military pacts with Russia.

"Russia and its allies Iran and China are about to make a major show of force with the army games competition in August in Venezuela. But it's important to understand that this force is molded by cyber-enabled, digital disinformation that is at the heart of how this kind of joint military exercise is used to legitimize authoritarian states and delegitimize democracies in the Western Hemisphere," Joseph Humire, a national security analyst and executive director of the think tank, told the Washington Free Beacon. "By normalizing military movements of U.S. adversaries in the Caribbean, we run the risk of weakening the moral legitimacy of democracies in Latin America."

There are also signs that Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the country's paramilitary fighting force, is boosting its presence in Latin America.

In early June, a Venezuela cargo plane flying in the region "was discovered to have members of the Qods Force, the elite unit of Iran's revolutionary guards, on board," according to the think-tank report. "Gholamreza Ghasemi, a known weapons trafficker for the IRGC and manager of Qeshm Fars Air, was piloting the Boeing 747-300M that returned to Buenos Aires along with 4 other Iranian nationals and 14 Venezuelans."

After the plane was grounded, "documents, personnel effects, and electronics were seized by Argentine authorities who discovered images of tanks, missiles, and other pro-IRGC paraphernalia on one of the mobile devices," hinting at a larger Iranian-backed plot unfolding in the region.

Ghasemi reportedly made at least 13 trips from Iran to Venezuela in the past year and a half, raising red flags with the FBI and the Israeli government.

As Iran and Venezuela increase their military and economic ties, Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega—an ally of Venezuela's Maduro—renewed a military pact with Russia "authorizing Russian troops, planes, and ships to patrol the Central American country's borders and conduct joint military training exercises," according to the report. The military agreement was signed amid Russia's war with Ukraine, indicating that a presence in Latin America remains a priority for Moscow even as it faces pressure on its own borders.

Russia has been waging covert espionage operations in Latin America. An accused Russian GRU military intelligence agent was recently caught trying to obtain an internship at the International Criminal Court. The spy "had been cultivating his cover as a Brazilian national for years and may not have been working alone," according to the think-tank report.

China also has been active in the region, though these efforts have received little media attention.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi last month inked several economic deals in Latin America, making calls to Uruguay, Nicaragua, and Ecuador. China's Belt and Road Initiative, a program to increase the Chinese Communist Party's global footprint, has made its way into Argentina, where it is working to build infrastructure projects.

"As Russia attempts to delegitimize the international financial system," the think tank noted, "China has signed an agreement with a Switzerland-based bank to establish a reserve of yuan currency together with Indonesia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Chile to counter the U.S. dollar."