Russia, China Hold Joint Naval Exercise As Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping Meet

Russian and Chinese naval forces are conducting a joint military exercise in the Pacific Ocean, Russia's defense ministry announced on Thursday, just hours before Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping were set to meet in Central Asia.

Warships of the Russian Navy and the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy were scheduled to drill in tactical maneuvering, signals communication, artillery fire and shipboard helicopter operations as part of an "international military cooperation" program, the ministry said on Telegram, according to a report by Russia's Tass news agency.

"The tasks of the patrol mission are to strengthen naval cooperation between Russia and China, maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, monitor coastal waters and protect Russian and Chinese maritime economic sites," the statement said.

Moscow and Beijing have seen their relations with the West sour in the six months since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The joint patrol in the Pacific—a sign of deepening military and diplomatic ties between the two capitals—is only their second such exercise since October 2021.

Russia, China Navies Patrol Pacific
A Russian missile corvette takes part in the Vostok military exercise in the Sea of Japan off Vladivostok, Russia on September 5, 2022. The Chinese navy, which joined Vostok, also took part in a separate joint patrol in the Western Pacific on September 15, Russia’s defense ministry said. KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images

The three main service branches of the PLA recently joined Russia's Vostok war games, a scaled-down version of its quadrennial exercise, this time involving 50,000 troops from 14 countries. The Chinese and Russian air forces conducted flight exercises in the region, while warships from Russia's Pacific Fleet and China's East Sea Fleet sailed through the Sea of Japan.

Over the past week, Japan's defense ministry had been tracking Russian and Chinese ships movements through its island chains into the Western Pacific, a signal that a joint patrol was likely.

Later on Thursday, Putin and Xi are scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization leaders' summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The Eurasian economic and security bloc summit lasts until Friday.

Xi left China for the first time in more than two years on Wednesday when he flew to Kazakhstan for a separate meeting. His talks with Putin will lend the Russian president significant moral support in the days after his forces have suffered major setbacks in Ukraine.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said some 3,000 square miles of territory had been recaptured from the Russia in a counterattack in the northern region of Kharkiv. A separate counteroffensive continues more slowly in Kherson in the south.

Since Putin ordered his troops into Ukraine on February 24, he has spoken twice on the phone with his Chinese counterpart. Their last in-person meeting was in Beijing three weeks before the war began, when the pair declared a "no limits" partnership.

Putin and Xi are expected to reaffirm their strategic partnership, but the Chinese leader is unlikely to commit practical military or financial aid to the Kremlin—for fear of undermining its outwardly neutral stance on the conflict and further alienating major trading partners in the West.