Sea Cooperation-2015, a large-scale joint Russian-Chinese naval exercise was held in the Mediterranean Sea this month. The exercise involved the participation of nine Russian and Chinese warships of different types.

Chemical defense exercises at the Moskva guided missile cruiser during the Russian-Chinese drills "Joint Sea-2015" in Mediterranean. Photo: RIA Novosti

The Russian and Chinese navies recently held their first joint exercise in the Mediterranean Sea. According to naval representatives from both countries, the Sea Cooperation-2015 drill has shown that Russia and China are ready to jointly respond to threats at sea, even if such threats emanate a long distance away from their naval bases.

Significantly, the Russian missile cruiser Moskva’s home port Sevastopol was used as the main headquarters of the exercise. Russia has in effect declared its readiness to use the Crimean city as a stronghold for its military presence in the Black and the Mediterranean seas.

This military exercise took place against the backdrop of increased tensions between Russia and the West over the conflict in Ukraine. At the same time, this drill would have been out of the question if China did not harbor claims of a presence in the Mediterranean. Officially, the exercise was not aimed against any third country. Its main goal was to practice cooperation between the two fleets for the purposes of achieving stability and countering new challenges and threats in the global seas.

Western analysts point out that since last year, when Russia’s relations with the U.S. and its European allies considerably deteriorated, Moscow has been staging an increasing number of military exercises and snap checks of combat readiness. The Russian side traditionally cites the need to defend its interests given NATO’s growing activity at its borders. Overall, drills like these show to the West that Russia is capable of defending its interests outside its national territory and securing support from its allies.

Beijing too is showing a continued interest in developing its defense capabilities. Since Xi Jinping came to power, the focus has increasingly been on defending the country’s maritime domains and communications, especially in the disputed areas of the East and South China seas. Chinese ships have been a part of the action in the Mediterranean Sea. In 2011, The Chinese Navy evacuated 30,000 Chinese workers from Libya.

It is noteworthy that for this drill in the Black and the Mediterranean seas, China dispatched ships that had been involved in an anti-piracy mission off the Horn of Africa. The same two frigates and auxiliary vessel were used to evacuate Chinese nationals from Yemen.

A Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman said the exercise focused on navigational safety, at-sea replenishment, and escort missions.

Chinese analysts point out that the experience of a joint drill with Russia in the Mediterranean Sea was extremely useful given the task of developing China’s ocean fleet. In addition, this kind of interaction does a lot to strengthen the strategic partnership in the military sector.

The exercise, which did not involve that many ships or personnel and did not have any extraordinary tasks, is far less significant than the message it sent to the West. Russia and China wanted to let the world know that Europe is a zone of responsibility not just for NATO. At the same time, the threat lies not in Sino-Russian cooperation but in how it is interpreted by the U.S. and its allies, which tend to justify their own expansionist policy and practice of “humanitarian intervention” by the presence of an outside enemy.

Today one can confidently maintain that neither Russia nor China harbor any plans to attack the U.S. or its allies and that one of the main goals of increasing their defense capability is to prevent unwanted military activity, including blatant acts of provocation, near their borders.

The article is first published in Russia Beyond The Headlines.