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by John Helmer, Moscow 

A Russian military blog post posted on Thursday, December 21 at 11:33 Moscow time, has revealed the hitherto secret positions of all warships in the area which the Pentagon has announced for its OPERATION PROSPERITY GUARDIAN.

The fresh data and the open map (lead image) were not available when yesterday’s report was published at 09:32 Moscow time of Russia’s “two-track” strategy for opposing the US and NATO,  and for protecting Russian oil shipments while  the Houthi drone and missile operations are under way against Israel.   

No Russian Navy vessel is in the area at present although Russian crude oil cargoes are moving through the Red Sea with Iranian and Houthi agreement. Because these ship movements are defying US and NATO sanctions, it has been decided in Moscow to negotiate safe passage with Iran and Yemen rather than deploy the Russian Navy to protect them. However, the new combined US and NATO operation, targeting the Houthis and their Iranian support and supply systems,  increases the possibility of a direct American, allied, or false-flagged attack on a tanker carrying Russian oil.  

In yesterday’s morning report, I indicated that “the current whereabouts of the [Chinese] warship group has not been reported in the open press.”

The Russian source map is now reporting that the Chinese Navy’s 45th Escort Task Force, comprising the Type-052 destroyer Urumqi,  the Type-547 frigate Linyi,  and supply ship Dongpinghu were at  berth at the Chinese base at Djibouti as of Wednesday, December 20.

The Russian map also reveals that the Iranian vessel MV Behshad is in a standing position in the Red Sea (lead image, top left of map). According to the Russian source, it is operating as an electronic surveillance, command and control centre to monitor friendly state ship movements – Russian, Chinese, Indian – and also  hostile vessels of the US, British and French navies, tracking their positions; and relaying the data to Iran and probably to shore positions in Yemen. Although US media and Pentagon statements accuse the Ansar Allah government in Yemen and Houthi forces of acting as Iranian proxies in the war against Israel, there has been no disclosure before now of this vessel in the Red Sea.

According to the western vessel tracking service VesselFinder, the Behshad is a “general cargo ship” flagged by Iran.  It reportedly sailed from the port of the Iran Shipbuilding and Offshore Industries Complex (ISOICO) to reach its current position, which VesselFinder confirms in the southern half of the Red Sea as of fifteen minutes ago. The western source reports the vessel is at anchor in 6.5 metres of water.  

In the Pentagon announcement of December 18, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin claimed that “Operation Prosperity Guardian is bringing together multiple countries to include the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain, to jointly address security challenges in the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, with the goal of ensuring freedom of navigation for all countries and bolstering regional security and prosperity.”   The new  Russian intelligence now makes clear that the UK, France and Spain are already in the region, with the US.

After Austin’s statement, his Italian counterpart announced that Italy is dispatching a frigate “to protect the prosperity of trade and guarantee freedom of navigation and international law…to increase the presence in the area in order to create the conditions for stabilization, avoid ecological disasters and also prevent a resumption of the inflationary push.”  

The Greek Defense Minister Nikos Dendias followed the Italian to say that Greece too is sending a frigate to join the US operation. Dendias is claiming the reason is that Greece is “the country with the largest ocean-going fleet [and so] has a primary interest in preserving the freedom of maritime zones and protecting the lives of seafarers.” What he means is that the involvement of Greek shipowners in the sanctions-busting Russian oil trade  has been so profitable,  Dendias wants to protect  the Greek tankers and their owners; and at the same time avoid the embarrassment of being so disloyal to the US and European Union sanctions regime. 

For the time being,  no Russian Navy vessel is reported in the Red Sea area, although reports indicate that the submarine Ufa  is heading eastwards across the Mediterranean with a surface support vessel,  and is likely to transit the Suez Canal and the Red Sea soon.

The new improved Kilo-class Ufa in St. Petersburg after commissioning in November 2022.   It has been assigned to the Pacific Fleet. 

For analysis of current Russian operations, plans,  and policy, click to read this.  

For the full map display, including the Israeli port of Eilat and the Persian Gulf ports and naval bases, click to open for an enlarged view.  

The presence of the Republic of Korea (ROK) Navy’s destroyer Yang Man-chun was reported when it left its home port in September to be for a six-month mission to combat piracy and threats against cargo shipments headed to and from Korea.    The map reveals it is currently off the Somali coast, near Indian, British, and US Navy vessels, as well as the Japanese Navy’s destroyer, JS Akebono.

This warship has been in “training” with the USS Mason and the Eisenhower carrier squadron,  but the Japanese are claiming it is engaged in “maritime security patrols in the GoA [Gulf of Aden], but is not involved in the new Operation Prosperity Guardian.”  

The JS Akebono (rear) and the USS Mason operating together in the Gulf of Aden on November 25.   

Operationally, US Navy releases indicate that the Japanese and the Korean destroyers are “working in coordination with U.S. Naval Forces Central Command” to combat both Somali pirates and Houthi operations.   

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