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China, Russia, Iran sending warships for joint drill in Middle East

Russian missile cruiser Varyag, of Russia's Pacific Fleet. (Russian Ministry of Defense photo/Released)
January 19, 2022

Warships from China, Russia and Iran are gathering together in Iran and are preparing to hold joint naval drills in the Persian Gulf.

On Tuesday, the Russian Navy’s Pacific Fleet announced a detachment of its warships had arrived at Iran’s Chahbehar port. There, the Russian fleet said it would “take part in a planned conference on conducting a joint naval exercise of warships of Russia, Iran and China.”

The Russian warships joining in the joint drills include the Slava-class guided-missile cruiser Varyag, the destroyer and anti-submarine warfare ship Admiral Tributs and the large sea tanker Boris Butoma.

The three countries announced their plans for the joint drills, known as CHIRU, in August. At the time, Russian Ambassador to Iran Levan Dzhagaryan said India, Syria and Venezuela would also participate in the drills.

Neither China nor Iran have described which of their ships are joining in the naval drills. The scope of these naval drills is also unclear at this time.

In August, Dzhagaryan told Russia’s state-run Sputnik news that the drills would focus on “ensuring international shipping safety” and “combating piracy.”

Iran has frequently referred to U.S. seizures and alleged or attempted seizures of Iranian cargo ships as acts of “piracy.” The drills also come as Iran and Israel have been engaged in a suspected campaign of back and forth sabotage attacks on one another’s shipments in the Middle East for months.

China, Russia and Iran have held joint naval drills in the past. In December of 2019, amid tensions between the U.S. and Iran, the three countries held joint drills in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman. Russia and Iran held naval drills in the northern Indian Ocean again in February of last year.

These latest drills come as remain high between the U.S. and all three countries, but especially Russia, which has kept around 100,000 troops along the border with Ukraine for months.

Last week Retired U.S. Army Gen. Curtis “Mike” Scaparrotti told the Institute for Corean-American Studies that China and Iran will be watching closely how the U.S. responds to the military tensions along Ukraine’s border with Russia.

Scaparrotti, who had served as both the Supreme Allied Commander for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the senior commander of U.S. forces in Korea, said, Russia may try to take control over more parts of the Crimean Peninsula or invade Ukraine outright through Belarus.

Scaparrotti said, “These [two moves] are connected” and the U.S. response “will inform Xi Jinping and Iran” as to how the U.S. might react if China seeks to invade Taiwan or Tehran escalates tensions in the Middle East.

According to USNI News, Scaporrotti did say joint military exercises between China and Russia are still “rudimentary,” but “if they chose to act together” in a strategic manner, their goals would likely align on splitting western alliances and ”rewriting the international rules-based order.”