A Russian naval fleet led by its Pacific flagship the 11,500-ton guided missile cruiser Varyag sailed into Chinese waters from Vladivostok on Monday to join forces with the People’s Liberation Army warships on a naval interoperability drill in the Yellow Sea off the northern port city of Qingdao.

The Russian armada also includes a submarine, a corvette, a tanker, a rescue vessel, an amphibious warfare vessel as well as two anti-submarine ships. The PLA will field a submarine, two guided missile destroyers, three frigates and a submarine rescue ship. Seven shipborne aircraft, four helicopters and 80 elite marines from both navies are also part of the drill, according to China’s defense ministry and Russia’s Sputnik news agency.

Russia’s Varyag guided missile cruiser sails into Qingdao. Photo: China News Service
Chinese and Russian seamen prepare for the Varyag’s docking. Photo: China News Service

Under a joint command center, Russian and Chinese seamen will conduct live missile and artillery drills at sea, anti-submarine maneuvers and joint air defense, and will also conduct a mock submarine rescue. A measure of the extent of the two navies’ cooperation is a report in the Global Times citing an official with the PLA Naval Studies Research Institute as saying that the radar and sonar systems of both navies will be “open to each other” throughout the six-day war game.

The People’s Daily reported that Russian troops were feted upon their arrival in Qingdao, with carnival-like dinners, exchanges and community outreach events spanning the first two days of the drill. The paper said May 1 would see the beginning of deployments at sea, where warships from the two countries will be interspersed into two separate groups, one of which will play the role of an adversarial force.

Both navies have sent a deputy commander-in-chief – Qiu Yanpeng and Alexander Vitko – to inspect the drill and compare notes on maritime defense and patrols.

The joint drill comes hot on the heels of a fanfare naval parade off Qingdao last Tuesday, which was presided over by Chinese President Xi Jinping to mark the 70th anniversary of the PLA Navy. The Chinese military showcased some of its key assets including the Liaoning aircraft carrier and the Nanchang, the first ship of the 13,000-ton Type 055 destroyer family that is arguably the largest warship other than a carrier in the Asia-Pacific. The event was also attended by an ensemble of Russian vessels including the Admiral Gorshkov, one of the nation’s most advanced frigates.

The drill follows Vladimir Putin’s twentieth visit to China when he flew in to Beijing last Friday to attend an international forum on Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative.

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