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Russian Warships Transit Red Sea to Eritrea as Houthis Resume Launches

Marshal Shaposhnikov
Marshal Shaposhnikov arriving in Eritrea (Ministry of Information)

Published Mar 29, 2024 10:58 AM by The Maritime Executive

 

After a lot of speculation in the Western media about Russian warships entering the Red Sea, the Russian Pacific fleet’s frigate Marshal Shaposhnikov arrived on Thursday, March 28 at Eritrea’s Port of Massawa for a five-day visit. The frigate was accompanied to the Red Sea by the missile cruiser Varyag

The Russian news agency Tass added to the speculation with a brief report on Thursday, citing the Russian Pacific Fleet’s press service, which said the ships were carrying out “assigned tasks within the framework of the long-range sea campaign.” Bloomberg highlighted that the destination of the ships was unclear speculating on Russian motives.

At the same time, it was noted that after a several days lull, U.S. Central Command reported a new series of launches coming from Houthi territory in Yemen. Four long-range unmanned aerial systems (UAS) were launched early on March 27 aimed at an unspecified U.S. warship and destroyed by U.S. forces according to CENTCOM. They then noted for the second day in a row four additional unmanned aerial systems were launched by the Houthi terrorists aimed at a coalition vessel and a U.S. warship and destroyed without incident.

Eritrea’s Ministry of Information ended the speculation releasing photos and announcing the Marshal Shaposhnikov’s port visit to Massawa to mark the 30th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Russia and Eritrea. The frigate they said was welcomed by Eritrea’s navy at a ceremony also attended by senior government officials. The vessel will stay at the port until April 5. 

 

 

In the last decade, the bilateral partnership between Eritrea and Russia has intensified, with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki making two state visits to Russia last year alone.

Eritrea holds significant geopolitical significance to Russia, specifically in achieving its long-standing ambition for a permanent military presence in the Red Sea. During his first state visit to Eritrea last year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov lauded the logistical potential of the Massawa port. Last year, the port city signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Russian Sevastopol’s Black Sea naval base pledging closer ties.

Some defense analysts have argued that Massawa port could be a viable second choice for Russia after Port Sudan, where there have been advanced high-level diplomatic engagements on establishing a naval base. However, with the ongoing civil war in Sudan, the process of the country to ratify the agreement with Russia on the navy base seems to have stalled. A naval base in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean by extension would increase the Russian presence without the long voyages to reach the area.

At the regional level, the Horn of Africa politics have almost reached a tipping point with the recent agreement between Ethiopia and Somaliland on sea access. For a long time, Ethiopia had been seeking access to Eritrea’s Red Sea port of Assab, which was once its territory until Eritrea gained independence in 1993.