On May 21, Russia and China concluded ten days of joint naval exercises in the eastern Mediterranean, which included live-fire drills. Although the militaries of the two countries claimed that the naval exercise was meant only to improve interoperability, their presence in the sea has far broader political implications.
For some years, Russia and China have been participating in bilateral and multilateral exercises in Asia, mostly with other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. This is the first time that Russian and Chinese naval forces have conducted joint tactical exercises in Europe and the first major exercise for China in such distant waters.
The exercise followed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow for the May 9 commemoration of the Russian victory over the Nazis. To kick it off, three Chinese and six Russian ships departed from the Russian port of Novorossiysk on the Black Sea. The exercise culminated in the Joint Sea 2015 drills. According to Rear Admiral Viktor Kochemazov, who commanded the Russian ships, antisabotage, antiship, antisubmarine, and air defense maneuvers were conducted as a part of “Operations to Ensure the Safety of Shipping in Remote Areas of the World Ocean.”
Chinese and Russian officials reported that the Mediterranean exercises reflected their need to prepare for nontraditional security missions and improve navigation safety. It is true that Russian and Chinese vessels have participated, along with ships from the United States and other countries, in antipiracy such missions, particularly in the Gulf of Aden. The three Chinese ships involved have all joined in antipiracy missions, and one frigate (the Linyi) also took part in China’s second rescue mission in the region in March, this time to evacuate 600 Chinese citizens and several hundred foreign nationals from Yemen. China’s first rescue mission in the Mediterranean occurred in 2011 in response to unrest in Libya and involved a makeshift effort to evacuate 38,500 Chinese workers using rented cruise ships and cargo boats supervised by a Chinese naval vessel. Since then, decided to hold more extensive exercises in 2015.
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