Russia and China have begun their first naval war games in the Mediterranean in what is seen as preparation for joint military operations in the world ocean far away from their territorial waters.

The joint naval drill, which began on Saturday, involves Russia’s heavy nuclear missile cruiser Peter the Great and Chinese frigate Yancheng, the Russian Defence Ministry said in a statement.

The Russian and Chinese warships will perform joint manoeuvring, in the course of which the Russian cruiser will set up a smokescreen and ship-borne helicopters of the two vessels will practise landing on each other’s deck.

The warships will also conduct air-defence training, using their helicopters as mock targets, the statement said.

“It is for the first time that the two countries are holding such training for operational teamwork of their navies,” the Russian Defence Ministry noted.

“The main purpose of the drill is to enhance the interoperability of Russian and Chinese combat ships for joint operation in the Eastern Mediterranean.”

Earlier this month, Russian and Chinese warships escorted the first consignment of Syrian chemical weapons materials transferred on a Danish ship. This became the first practical interaction between the Russian and the Chinese navies.

Experts said Russia and China may be training for larger-scale joint naval operations.

“It is quite obvious that the Russian and Chinese militaries have been training for possible big-scale joint action,” said Vasily Kashin of the CAST defence think tank. “Joint naval operations may be needed to defend the interests of the two countries and those of their allies in different parts of the world.”

Last July, Russia and China held their largest joint naval war in the Sea of Japan, in which a total of 23 warships took part.

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