Navy drill strengthens partnership between Russia, China and Iran

Iran, Russia, and China sent ships for a naval drill over the weekend, continuing this week to showcase growing cooperation. At least four naval drills have been conducted by the three countries in the past, with this year’s being larger and coinciding with rising tensions in the Red Sea and off the coast of Yemen.

Iran’s Fars News reported, “The large-scale maritime drills, named ‘Maritime Security Belt 2024,’ took place with naval forces of Iran, Russia, and China in the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean.” Live-fire drills were carried out by a dozen ships from the three countries. China contributed a guided-missile destroyer named Urumqi, along with two other warships, the Type 054A guided missile frigate Linyi, and the Type 903A comprehensive replenishment ship Dongpinghu, of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy’s 45th escort task force. Russia deployed a cruiser named Varyag and an anti-submarine warfare ship, Marshal Shaposhnikov, from its Pacific squadron. Both countries have had military engagements recently, with Russia facing challenges in the Black Sea against Ukraine and China expanding its naval presence off the coast of East Africa. Iran’s ships included the frigates Alborz and Jamaran.

Warships attend a joint naval exercise of the Iranian, Chinese and Russian navies in the northern Indian Ocean January 19, 2022 (credit: IRANIAN ARMY/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY) VIA REUTERS)

Chinese and Russian state media comment on the drills

Chinese and Russian state media both emphasized the drills, covering approximately 17,000 square kilometers of open ocean. The Global Times in China stated that “the naval forces of China, Iran, and Russia launched an exercise near the Gulf of Oman to safeguard regional maritime security, without targeting any specific country or tensions.” The drills began off the port of Chabahar, where Iran has previously launched drones for ship attacks. The exercise focused on anti-piracy and search and rescue training in three phases – harbor, sea, and summarizing.

“The joint drills enhance exchanges and cooperation among the navies, displaying a shared commitment to maritime security,” said Liang Dong of the PLA Navy’s 45th escort task force in a CCTV report. Observers from Azerbaijan, India, Kazakhstan, Oman, Pakistan, and South Africa attended the drill. Iran’s engagement in groups like BRICS and the SCO has strengthened partnerships with Russia and China, evident in participants like South Africa and India, both part of BRICS.

The naval drill sends a message to Western powers amid continuing attacks by Iran-backed Houthis and confrontations with the US and UK. Iran, Russia, and China’s joint drill reveals a focus on cooperation rather than maritime security in the Red Sea, signaling a united front against Western powers.