Robert HARNEIS- TDO- (FRANCE) - In the face of an increasingly aggressive and unpredictable Washington administration, Russia is upping its naval cooperation with key partners.

The Iranian naval commander in chief has announced that Russian naval units will join with the Iranian navy in exercises in the Persian Gulf. He told journalists, “According to negotiations with the Russian Navy, Iranian forces will send a fleet to the southern regions of Iran this year”. He added that “the fleets of Iran and Russia will continue cooperation in “several operational, educational and technical matters.” This follows joint exercises in early January with Russia in the Caspian Sea.

On April 29 Russian warships from the Russian Pacific Fleet arrived at the Chinese port of Qingdao to participate in bilateral manoeuvres, known as ‘Naval Interaction’, according to the Chinese Eastern Military District.

At the end of March, the Russian Ministry of Defence reported that in this simulation it was intended to carry out naval artillery fire manoeuvres against naval and aerial targets, as well as exercises in search and rescue operations.

On April 26 it was announced that Russia's Sevmash Shipyard has finally launched the Belgorod, the world's longest submarine. She was laid down as an Oscar II-class vessel in 1992, but construction proceeded in fits and starts as Russia went through multiple economic and political transformations, and her launch ceremony was delayed for many years. 

Belgorod's mission has changed over time. The Oscar II class was built to carry the heavy P-700 Granit anti-ship cruise missile, and the design has an unusually wide and spacious hull form to accommodate twin batteries of this weapon. But over the past seven years, Belgorod has been lengthened by 100 feet and repurposed.

According to the Maritime Herald she is designed primarily to support special covert missions like installing seafloor sensors. She is believed also to have the capability to support the top secret, deep-diving ‘Losharik’, a manned mini-sub that can access subsea cables and other seafloor infrastructure down to 1,000 meters.

Second, unlike other Oscar IIs, Belgorod has a large bulge at her stern with several hatches, and her starboard-side rudder skeg appears to have arrangements for towing. The alterations lead some analysts to suggest that she may be equipped with a spool and deployment system for covert cable-laying.

A further interesting strategic maritime development is the announcement at the recent Belt and Road forum in Beijing by President Putin that he would like to see the Northern Sea Route become part of China’s Maritime Silk Road.

“We give major attention to the development of the Northern Sea Route [and] are considering the possibility of connecting it with the Chinese Maritime Silk Road,” the president told the state leaders in the room.

“It would create a global and competitive route that connects north-eastern, eastern and south-eastern Asia with Europe,” he added.

The Russian president also said he is seeking investment from foreign partners for the development of the Arctic shipping route.

“This kind of large-scale project requires close cooperation with the countries of Eurasia in order to boost transit shipments,” he said, adding that investments are needed to build port terminals and logistics centres.

“We invite the countries represented here to take part in the development,” he said.

As Putin arrived in Beijing, natural gas company Novatek signed two major deals with the China National Oil and Gas Exploration and Development Company Ltd (CNODC) and CNOOC Ltd. Each of the agreements includes a 10 percent participation interest in Arctic LNG 2, Russia’s upcoming major liquefied natural gas project.

The CNODC is already a major stakeholder in Yamal LNG, a the project that was launched late 2017.

Liquefied natural gas is now the driver of growth on the Northern Sea Route, but other goods could also add volume. Vladimir Putin has made it a national objective to reach an annual total shipping volume of 80 million tons on the route by 2024.

During the recent Arctic Forum in St. Petersburg, state nuclear power company Rosatom said it believed the figure could be as high as 92.6 million tons by 2024, including about 1 million tons of transit shipments.

The Belt and Road Initiative is China’s infrastructure strategy that focuses on development and investments in 152 countries and international organizations in several continents. “Belt” refers to the overland routes for roads and railways, and “road” to the sea routes, or the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

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