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From 15 to 19 March 2023 units of the Chinese, Iranian and Russian navies conducted joint naval manoeuvres in the sea area between Muscat (Oman) and Chahbahar (Iran).

Ten vessels took part in the exercise, which was dubbed ‘Maritime Safety Belt’, according to a statement by the Russian Ministry of Defence, which stated “From the Chinese Navy the [Type 052D destroyer] Nanjing was involved; from the Iranian Navy the frigates Sahand and Jamaran, the corvette Bayandor, the missile boat Tondar, the small missile ship Zerekh, the supply ship Sirzhan and the transport ship Shahid Nazeri, as well as other ships and watercraft.” The Russian participants were the frigate Admiral Gorshkov and the tanker Kama. According to Iranian announcements, the naval component of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was also said to have been among the participants with smaller vessels and helicopters.

Ten vessels took part in the exercise, which was dubbed ‘Maritime Safety Belt. (Photo: MoD Russia)

This year’s ‘Maritime Safety Belt’ is the third such naval exercise involving the three nations following previous iterations in 2019 and 2022. According to Russian reports, gunnery drills as well as anti-piracy, minesweeping and sea rescue operations were practised.

Given the geopolitical situation, the exercise name seems somewhat ironic. As China revives its political and military relations with nations criticised by the West, Iran is coming increasingly into focus. Beijing and Tehran concluded a 25-year co-operation agreement this month (March 2023) when Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian visited China, while Beijing underlined its growing international role, especially in the Middle East, in brokering the restoration of diplomatic ties between Tehran and Riyadh om 10 March.

Iran has seen a deepening of relations with both Beijing and Moscow since President Ebrahim Raisi took office in June 2021. “The improvement of bilateral relations between Tehran and Moscow will enhance security in the region and on the international stage,” Raisi is quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA after returning from a visit to Russia on 21 January. Iran is supporting Russia in its war against Ukraine by supplying missiles, loitering munitions and other weapons.

The Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov has been on a long-range cruise with the tanker Kama since the end of last year. Both were previously involved in the ‘Mosi II’ exercise off South Africa with Chinese and South African naval units.

After a supply stop in Chahbahar, Iran, they continued their voyage towards the Mediterranean. According to earlier announcements, Admiral Gorshkov will join the Russian Mediterranean Squadron. A stopover in Port Sudan is not unlikely.

Hans Uwe Mergener