Russia and Iran are forming a joint venture to build a sanctions-free fleet of cargo vessels.

The so-called “freedom flotilla” of 20 ships will use new and existing transport corridors to ensure freight keeps flowing outside of Western influence.

The Iranian news agency Isna reported that a phone call took place on 17 May between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to firm up the deal.

The idea is to coordinate cargo movement along the north-south and east-west transit corridors to and from all Russian ports.

Both countries have active shipbuilding capacity, particularly Russia. Its state shipbuilding operation United Shipbuilding Corp has been sanctioned by the US.

Yards will focus on building large container ships and cargo vessels.

Renat Mistakhov, chief executive of Russia’s Ak Bars Shipbuilding, said his yard is ready to build bulk carriers, tankers and a variety of barges, according to Frontier India.

A consortium of seven countries is also coming together to develop the north-south transport corridor, Russian deputy prime minister Marat Khusnullin has said.

The idea is to connect the ports of the Caspian Sea and the surrounding railway routes in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

The route will ultimately connect ports in northern Russia with Iranian terminals in the Middle East Gulf.

Transit times reduced

Putin has said it takes between 30 and 45 days to ship goods from St Petersburg to Mumbai in India currently.

This would be cut to 10 days with the new route.

Russian first deputy prime minister Andrey Belousov estimated the volume of goods transported via the route could treble by 2030 to 30m tonnes.

Moscow plans to invest $3.7bn in the route by that date.

The report said improved relations with Georgia will also speed the establishment of a transport corridor to the Mediterranean Sea.

The route from Baku in Azerbaijan to Tbilisi in Georgia and Kars in Turkey provides direct access to the Turkish port of Mersin.

Russia and India have already announced plans to cooperate on trade and shipbuilding.