Russia to flex muscles with navy drills involving all its fleets

The sweeping set of January-February exercises comes during a standoff with the West over NATO enlargement.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin stands on a military ship
Putin takes part in a ceremony after the Navy Day parade in St Petersburg [File: Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin via AP]

Russia has announced its navy will stage a sweeping set of exercises from the Pacific to the Atlantic involving all its fleets – the latest show of strength in a surge of military activity during a standoff with the West.

The drills this month and next will take place in the seas directly adjacent to Russia and also feature manoeuvres in the Mediterranean, the North Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk, the northeast Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific, the defence ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

They will draw on 140 warships and support vessels, 60 planes, 1,000 units of military hardware and about 10,000 servicemen, it added.

In a video posted on Facebook, the ministry showed its Pacific Fleet’s newest diesel-electric submarine test-firing a Kalibr cruise missile at a land-based target from an underwater position.

The missile struck a coastal target in Russia’s far eastern Khabarovsk region from a range of more than 1,000km (620 miles), it said.

Trilateral naval exercise

Meanwhile on Friday, Russia, Iran and China began a trilateral naval exercise in an area encompassing 17,000 square km (6,560 square miles) north of the Indian Ocean.

Iran, which first joined naval drills with China and Russia in 2019, sent vessels from its armed forces and Revolutionary Guards to the exercises dubbed the “2022 Marine Security Belt”.

The drills will include a range of tactical exercises, namely putting out fires on burning vessels, rescuing hijacked vessels, and shooting at air targets in different visibility conditions, according to Iran’s Rear Admiral Mostafa Tajoldini.

A Russian warship fires a missile
A new Zircon hypersonic cruise missile is launched by the frigate Admiral Gorshkov of the Russian Navy from the White Sea in the north of Russia [File: Russian Defence Ministry Press Service via AP]

Separately, Interfax news agency reported on Friday Russia was sending two battalions of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems to Belarus to join military drills there next month.

Russian military forces and hardware began arriving in Belarus this week for the “Allied Resolve” drills to be held near the former Soviet republic’s western border with NATO members Poland and Lithuania, and close to its southern flank with Ukraine.

Russia’s defence ministry said two S-400 battalions – which typically include eight anti-aircraft missile systems each – have started moving to Belarus from Russia’s Far East by train, according to Interfax.

Moscow has said that 12 Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets and a Pantsir missile system would also be deployed to Belarus for the drills.

Western fears

Russian military moves are being closely scrutinised as a troop build-up near Ukraine and a volley of hawkish rhetoric have rattled the West and sparked fears of a looming war.

Moscow insists it has no plans to invade but has at the same time laid down a series of demands – including a ban on Ukraine and Georgia joining NATO – in exchange for de-escalation.

The United States has rejected Moscow’s demands as “non-starters” and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg this week insisted that the alliance “will not compromise on core principles such as the right for each nation to choose its own path”.

On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is due to hold talks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Geneva.

Russia's naval cadets walk along a pier
Russia’s naval cadets walk along a pier at the Kronshtadt naval base outside Saint Petersburg [File: Olga Maltseva/AFP]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies