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Russia And China Hold Joint Naval Exercises In The Baltic

The Chinese navy is taking part in the exercises. (file photo)
The Chinese navy is taking part in the exercises. (file photo)

Russia and China have started weeklong naval maneuvers on the Baltic Sea, flexing their muscles in a region where tensions have risen in recent years.

The joint exercises began on July 21 at the port of Baltiisk in the Kaliningrad region, a Russian exclave sandwiched between EU and NATO members Poland and Lithuania.

The Chinese destroyer Hefei and frigate Yuncheng were set to take part in the exercises, as were the Russian corvettes Steregushchy and Boiky.

Russia has stepped up its pursuit of stronger relations with China in the past three years as it faces off with the West after seizing Crimea and backing separatist in a deadly war in eastern Ukraine.

Russia and China are the leading members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a Eurasian military, political and economic bloc formed in 2001.

In recent years Russia has increased its military activity in the Baltic region, stoking concern about its intentions and provoking debate in Sweden and Finland about whether to join NATO.

The Baltic Sea drills started amid Sea Breeze, an annual exercise co-hosted by the United States and Ukraine in the Black Sea that ends on July 22.

The drills also started a day after President Vladimir Putin signed a decree laying out goals for the Russian navy through 2030.

The document says that the navy is a major, effective instrument of strategic containment, including against potential threats from the United States.

Russia and China hace shown solidarity at sea in recent years, holding their first joint exercises in the South China sea in 2015 and conducted maneuvers in the Mediterranean in 2016.

But the new plan signed by Putin says the Russian navy must "aim to secure the second place in the world in terms of combat capacity" -- a goal that seems go point to rivalry with an ambitious China.

Earlier this month, China dispatched personnel to begin construction of its first foreign military base, in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti.

With reporting by TASS, Interfax, dpa, and The Economist
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