Iran, Russia, and China will hold joint naval exercises in the north of the Indian Ocean on January 21, Iranian media have reported, amid speculation that the three countries are teaming up in the face of growing pressure from the United States and its allies over Ukraine and European security guarantees.
A spokesman for Iran's armed forces told the semiofficial ISNA news agency that the purpose of the drills was to "strengthen security and its foundations in the region."
The maneuvers, dubbed 2022 Marine Security Belt, will be the third joint naval exercises between the three countries since 2019, and will continue in the future, said the spokesman, Mostafa Tajoldin.
Since coming to office in June 2021, hard-line Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has pursued a policy of deepening ties with both Moscow and Beijing.
Russia, Iran, and China are subject to Western sanctions imposed over various issues including Russia's threats on Ukraine's territorial integrity, human rights abuses in China, and Iran's nuclear program.
After meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on January 19, Raisi said Iran had "no limits for expanding ties with Russia," while the Russian leader praised the countries' "close cooperation" on the international stage.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian paid a visit to China last week during which it was announced that Beijing and Tehran had launched a 25-year cooperation deal aimed at bolstering economic and political ties.
In September, Iran's bid to become a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization was approved by the seven current members of the security body led by Beijing and Moscow. The country will formally join the grouping after the technical and legal process concludes, which is expected to take up to two years.
The Iranian military spokesman said both navies from Iran's armed forces and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) will take part in the upcoming drills with Russia and China.
The maneuvers are to include tactical exercises such as rescuing a burning vessel, releasing a hijacked vessel, and shooting at air targets at night.
Earlier this week, Russia announced that the three countries were planning joint naval exercises but provided few details.
The Pacific Fleet said in a statement on January 18 that a Russian naval group including a missile cruiser, a large anti-submarine-warfare ship, and a large sea tanker had anchored off Iran's port of Chabahar on the Gulf of Oman ahead of the drills.
"In the port, the official delegation of the Russian Navy will take part in a planned conference to hold a joint naval exercise of warships of Russia, Iran, and China," the fleet said.