Russian frigates arrive in China in sign of ‘close cooperation’

The Cold War-era Gromkiy and Sovershenniy will take part in joint drills with the Chinese navy during a week in Shanghai.

Two Russian navy ships have arrived in Shanghai in the first port visit by the Pacific Fleet to China in three years, in a further demonstration of the two countries’ close ties 16 months after Moscow began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The Cold War-era frigates Gromkiy and Sovershenniy sailed into China’s largest city on Wednesday and were greeted by Chinese sailors dressed in white parade uniforms holding placards welcoming their arrival, according to Russia’s state-run TASS news agency.

The ships, whose base is Vladivostok, will remain in China until July 11 and are expected to take part in joint drills with the Chinese navy focusing on ship-to-ship communications, manoeuvring in formation and maritime search and rescue, Chinese state media said.

“Their arrival is symbolic and very important,” Dmitry Lukyantsev, a representative of the Shanghai Committee for Foreign Affairs and Russia’s consul general in Shanghai, told TASS. “This is the first call by Pacific Fleet ships after the three-year pandemic period and this vividly shows that our states maintain exclusively close cooperation absolutely in all the directions, including the military and political sphere.”

The same vessels passed through waters near the self-ruled island of Taiwan at the end of June. This month they sailed past Japan’s Okinawa Islands, where the United States has a major military base.

China and Russia’s military cooperation underlines the strength of the two government’s informal alliance, which has endured despite the Ukraine war. Despite having had close ties with Ukraine, China has not explicitly condemned Moscow’s invasion, insisting that it is neutral in the conflict. It has also tried to mediate a peaceful solution to the crisis.

The naval visit follows a meeting in Beijing this week between China’s Minister of National Defence Li Shangfu and the head of Russia’s navy, Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov, the first formal military talks between the two countries since a short-lived mutiny by the Russian mercenary group Wagner on June 24.

China has reassured Russia of its continued support since the uprising, and Li told Yevmenov that China hoped for increased exchanges, joint exercises and other forms of cooperation to help defence ties “reach a new level”, according to China’s defence ministry.

“The Chinese and Russian navies have close exchanges and frequent interactions,” the ministry quoted Li as saying. “It is hoped that the two sides will strengthen communication at all levels, regularly organise joint training, joint patrols and joint war games.”

China has the world’s largest navy by number of hulls and is vastly superior to Russia’s not only in terms of size but also in technical prowess.