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China, Iran and Russia hold joint war games in Gulf of Oman

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Military exercises running through March 16 are to involve warships and aviation.

The navies of China, Iran and Russia have begun joint drills in the Gulf of Oman, their fifth common military exercise in recent years.

The war games starting on Tuesday coincide with heightened tensions in the region as Israel’s war on Gaza rages for a sixth month and Yemen’s Houthi rebels have launched attacks on ships in the Red Sea in response.

Russia’s defence ministry said the exercises that will run through Friday and involve warships and aviation would focus on the protection of “maritime economic activity”.

State media reported that a grouping of ships from Russia’s Pacific Fleet, led by the Varyag cruiser, arrived at the Iranian port of Chabahar on Monday ahead of the drills that will see representatives from the navies of Azerbaijan, India, Kazakhstan, Oman, Pakistan and South Africa act as observers.

For its part, China’s defence ministry said the drills – called “Maritime Security Belt – 2024” – were aimed at “jointly maintaining regional maritime security”.

“China will send … guided-missile destroyer Urumqi, guided-missile frigate Linyi and comprehensive supply ship Dongpinghu to participate in the exercise,” the ministry added in a statement, without providing further details.

Iranian state media, meanwhile, reported that the exercise’s goal is to strengthen “the security of international maritime trade, combating piracy and maritime terrorism”, among others.

The drills come as a United States-led naval coalition has been operating in Red Sea waters since December 2023 trying to counter the Houthi attacks.

Separately, some 20,000 troops from 13 NATO members are conducting drills in the north of new member Sweden as well as its neighbours Finland and Norway.

The Nordic exercise is part of wider exercises called Steadfast Defender 24, the largest in decades for the US-led military alliance, with up to 90,000 troops taking part over several months.

The alliance says the intention is “to demonstrate NATO’s ability to defend every inch of its territory” – widely seen as a signal to Russia.

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