China, Russia and Iran Team Up for Joint Naval Exercises
Russia has said it will take part in joint naval exercises with China and Iran, as scrutiny grows over Moscow's military maneuvers following a buildup of troops next to the Ukrainian border.
The announcement comes only days after Moscow said it would conduct a snap combat readiness inspection of its troops in the Russian Far East amid growing alarm in world capitals over the prospect of an invasion of Ukraine.
Last week, talks between Russian and Western officials failed to yield a breakthrough to calm Ukrainian fears about the Russian military presence on its border. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied it plans any incursion into its neighbor.
On Tuesday, the Russian Defense Ministry said that a detachment of its Pacific Fleet had entered the port in Chabahar, in Iran's Baluchestan Province.
The vessels are the missile cruiser Varyag , the large anti-submarine ship Admiral Tributs and the sea tanker Boris Butoma , which had set sail from Vladivostok at the end of 2021.
The joint maritime drills in the Persian Gulf—dubbed CHIRU—had been announced in August 2021 by the Russian ambassador to Tehran, Levan Dzhagaryan and had been planned to take place in late 2021 or early 2022.
As Russia and China continue to increase their military cooperation, Dzhagaryan told Russian state media that the drills were aimed at "ensuring international shipping safety" and "combating piracy," a message repeated by agencies on Tuesday.
But they come as the former top military NATO commander, Curtis "Mike" Scaparrotti said that Iran and China will be closely watching how the U.S. handles the Ukraine crisis.
He told an online forum sponsored by the Korean-American organization ICAS that Russian forces in Belarus—bordering Ukraine and NATO countries Poland, Latvia and Lithuania—posed a threat to Europe. There was also the prospect Russia might seize the strip of land connecting Russia with Crimea, which it annexed in 2014 from Ukraine.
Such moves "are connected [and] will inform Xi Jinping and Iran" on what to expect from the U.S. if Beijing escalates tensions over Taiwan and Tehran does the same in the Middle East, Scaparrotti said last week, the U.S. Naval Institute reported.
Putin will brief his Chinese counterpart Xi about the talks held last week with NATO when he visits China in February to attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics , Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.
Last week, Russia's Defense Ministry announced military exercises in the Russian Far East were intended "to assess the readiness of the troops… to carry out missions as required after regrouping at far distances across Russian territory," Reuters reported.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko also said that Russian forces and equipment had started to arrive in western Belarus.
He said joint military exercises would start in February by the borders of NATO members Poland and Lithuania, as part of Operation Allied Resolve.
Russia's Defense Ministry has also announced that live-fire drills involving over 2,000 troops are taking place in the northwest Leningrad Region.
The army's Western Military District announced troops would use T-72B3 tanks, and practice with AGS-17 automatic grenade launchers, RPG-7V hand-held anti-tank grenade launchers and AK-74M assault rifles, Tass reported.