The Kremlin seems to be starting a new round in a big game against the United States. On December 27, the unprecedented naval exercises of the fleets of Russia, China and Iran will start in the Indian Ocean. The pretext for them, as stated by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club, is “the fight against terrorists and pirates in the Indian Ocean.”
It is not yet known which Russian ships will take part in the exercises. According to the military observer of the Free Press, retired captain 1st rank Sergei Ishchenko, the following options are possible:
- At the end of November, a detachment of ships of the Baltic Fleet – the watchman “Yaroslav the Wise”, the tug boat “Viktor Konetsky” and the tanker “Yelnya” – entered from the Mediterranean into the Red Sea via the Suez Canal. He goes straight to the training area – the Gulf of Aden. The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation reported that one of the tasks of the detachment was the maintenance of anti-piracy watch.
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– On December 3, a detachment of ships of the Northern Fleet – the large anti-submarine ship “Vice Admiral Kulakov” and the large landing ship “Kondopoga” – left the Severomorsk raid and headed for the Atlantic Ocean.
– In the South Atlantic, near the Cape of Good Hope, our missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov is now located. He just completed a joint exercise in these waters with the Weifang Chinese Navy frigate and the Amatola South African Navy frigate.
– Finally, in October a detachment of Pacific Fleet ships left Vladivostok for the Asia-Pacific region. The squad includes the Pacific Fleet flagship Guards missile cruiser Varyag, the large anti-submarine ship Admiral Panteleev, and the medium sea tanker Pechenga.
Any of these four detachments of ships or several ship groups of their composition in any combination can, on the part of the Russian Navy, take part in exercises near the Arabian Peninsula.
From China, several ships from the squadron of the Chinese Navy to combat piracy, which is located off the coast of Somalia, will be involved. Iran is also capable of exhibiting a considerable number of destroyers, frigates, submarines and combat aircraft.
And here we must understand: the fight against piracy is a purely formal pretext. As the American newspaper The Daily Beast notes, the upcoming international exercises are a projection of force on the northern Indian Ocean and the Strait of Hormuz. That is, to the Middle East routes, which are vital to the whole world for oil supplies. Moreover, these exercises are conducted demonstratively, at a time when Iran is experiencing “maximum pressure” from the United States.
– If in the medium and long term, China, Russia and Iran continue to develop their ties in order to protect strategic interests in the Indian Ocean, they will form a powerful trio to be led by Moscow, – the confident American publication.
And indeed: this July, Russia introduced the concept of collective security in the Persian Gulf, The Daily Beast notes. It provides for the holding of an international conference on security and cooperation in the Persian Gulf, which will later lead to the creation of an organization for security and cooperation in the region.
In fact, Donald Trump’s clumsy policy – a one-way exit from the Iranian nuclear deal, with Tehran’s economic strangulation – has led China, Russia and Iran to come closer as strategic partners. And the US position in the Persian Gulf has since been steadily weakening.
It seems that this is well understood in Washington. At the end of November, the aircraft carrier Harry Truman left the base in Norfolk without wide publicity, and is now in a hurry to the Persian Gulf to replace another nuclear aircraft carrier that has long served in the area – Abraham Lincoln. It may well turn out that during the period of the Russian-Chinese-Iranian exercises, two American strike carrier groups will be located nearby at once. If so, this will be a clear signal that the United States simply does not intend to give up.
- Naval exercises in the Indian Ocean are, first of all, an illustration of Moscow’s activity on the world stage in the military-political sphere, – said Sergey Ermakov, expert at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISI). – The countries of the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia are closely monitoring the situation.
But I would not say that they see a shift in Russia to the East, as some analysts are talking about.
Another thing is China. He declared his global ambitions and claims for global leadership. But the Celestial Empire has a slightly different strategic culture. China is promoting its projects through building synergies. In this sense, the US confrontational position is really pushing Beijing, Tehran and Moscow towards rapprochement.
And here we must understand: in the Indo-Pacific region – according to the classification of the Pentagon – the United States is trying to build a balance of power as opposed to precisely China. And China and Russia, relying on the principle of the polycentricity of the world, are trying to do their job.
So far, Moscow and Beijing have been able to avoid direct confrontation with the Americans in the Indian Ocean. But the situation in the region is tense, tough, and political battles are serious. The joint exercises of Russia, China and Iran are clear evidence of this.
– Is it possible to say that the US position in the Middle East is gradually weakening?
– It is difficult to judge the real balance of power in the region: a lot is happening behind the scenes. We can talk about something else – the United States now, under Trump, is sharply changing its foreign policy. They no longer want to act around the world on their own. And they are trying to build coalitions and integration projects. As we see, while the United States is not very successful.
Another point is fundamental: the USA no longer wants to be the main financier of these projects, including even maintaining a unipolar world in which they would be a global leader. The Americans also want to shift this burden to their allies and partners.
It is significant that Trump spoke about these things at the opening of the NATO anniversary summit in London. The fact that the United States under him pressed on South Korea. And she agreed to allocate $ 500 million to pay for American bases on her land. That negotiations are underway with Japan, pressure is being exerted on the European allies – so that they also help Washington to solve problems. Including – in the Middle East and in the Indian Ocean.
States are now trying to reduce not so much their presence as expenses and the burden of responsibility.
– Does this create a window of opportunity for us?
– We are just witnessing a crisis in American politics. The world is taking a completely different path, and the situation is developing not according to the plot that Washington wanted – this is obvious.
It would seem logical for the United States to build projects that would divide Beijing and Moscow. But in fact, US policy leads to the exact opposite effect. The interaction between Russia, China and Iran is not being built from scratch. There is a commonality of national interests, and a commonality of approaches. At the same time, the Americans, in the main military-political documents, consider these three countries as the main geopolitical competitors, if not opponents. This alone will continue to push Moscow, Beijing and Tehran towards unification.
- Naval exercises are a purely political demonstration, – agrees Alexander Khramchikhin, deputy director of the Institute for Political and Military Analysis.
- Moscow wants to demonstrate that it maintains good relations with Tehran. China, in my opinion, is participating in this demonstration rather forcedly. Over the past five years, Beijing has not been very active in showing solidarity with Moscow on issues critical to it. But now he himself is undergoing very strong American pressure, and therefore is forced to show discontent.
In my opinion, cooperation between Russia, China and Iran is possible, but purely situational. Everything here, I believe, depends entirely on the Americans. The stronger they put pressure on Iran and China, the higher the likelihood of rapprochement between the participants of the “triangle”. But I do not presume to predict the reaction of the Americans, including – to the upcoming exercises.
But in any case, I would not say that strategic changes are brewing in the Middle East.