Chinese navy commander talks cooperation in visit to Russian Arctic

The two navies have drilled together in the Baltic and Mediterranean seas in recent years.

By Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer - July 31, 2018
China’s aircraft carrier Liaoning takes part in a military drill of Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy in the western Pacific Ocean, April 18, 2018. The Liaoning is similar to Russia’s aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov. (Reuters / stringer)

Last year, China and Russia held a joint naval exercise in the Baltic Sea. Now, during a visit by a top Chinese admiral to Severomorsk, the main base of Russia’s Northern Fleet, the two nations have discussed possible forms of between that fleet and China’s navy.

China has the world’s third largest navy, while Russia is the second largest after the United States. Since 2012, China and Russia have teamed up on several naval exercises. While the Chinese navy earlier has focused its area of influence near its own backyard, Beijing sailed warships to exercise with Russia in the Mediterranean and Black Sea in 2015 and in the Baltic Sea in 2017.

A possible future Barents Sea and Arctic exercise is not explicitly mentioned in the press release following Monday’s meeting in Severomorsk between Vice-Admiral Shen Jinlong of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy and Vice-Admiral Nikolay Yevmenov of Russia’s Northern Fleet.

“The parties discussed a set of issues related to the response to existing threats in the World Oceans, possible practical forms of cooperation in the interest of strengthening maritime security,” the Northern Fleet’s press release after the meeting reads. The meeting is called a “working visit”.

China is currently developing its navy to be capable of worldwide operations. Among other warships, four aircraft carriers are scheduled to be completed by 2025. Today, the only aircraft carrier in operation is the Liaoning, a vessel originally laid down in 1985 for the Soviet navy. With the breakup of the Soviet Union, though, construction was halted and Ukraine announced it for sale. In 1998, the Chinese navy bought it and completed it in 2012 as a training vessel.

The Northern Fleet has Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov which is of the same class as Liaoning.

Admiral Kuznetsov is currently moored for extensive long-term repair at naval yard No. 35 Sevmorput in Murmansk. The work will last at least until 2022. Meanwhile, Russia’s naval fighter jet pilots have no real aircraft carrier at sea to practice takeoffs and landings.

One solution for the Northern Fleet’s pilots could be to team up with China for training on Liaoning, some military experts have been speculating in Russian media.

Whether joint training on China’s aircraft carrier was on the table for discussion in Severomorsk during the visit by Shen Jinlong’s is not known. The commander of the People’s Liberation Army Navy was after the meeting invited on board the Northern Fleet’s nuclear-powered multi-purpose Oscar-II class submarine Voronezh.