19:37 GMT18 February 2020
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    A joint Russian-Chinese exercise set to kick off next week has thrown all of Scandinavia into a panic. Not only has the exercise that Danish media dubbed Peace Mission 2017 ironically fueled the Nordics' perennial fears of "Russian aggression," but it also features Chinese warships in a Baltic Sea exercise for the first time in history.

    The exercise officially called Joint Sea 2017 will be held from July 24-28. On Friday, three Chinese vessels (a frigate, a destroyer and a supply ship) will drop anchor in the Russian town of Baltiysk in Kaliningrad Region, which serves as the base of Russia's Baltic Fleet.

    The Russian Navy previously participated in exercises near China, but it is the first time China is taking part in exercises in the Baltic Sea, which was hardly good news for the Nordic countries.

    Previously, the Chinese vessels were greeted and accompanied by Norwegian and Danish warships to their destination in Russia. Klaus Thing Rasmussen, senior duty officer at the military operations center, informed that Denmark escorted the Chinese vessels the entire way through Danish territorial waters, Danish Radio reported.

    According to associate professor Liselotte Odgaard, researcher in Chinese military and diplomacy at the Defense Academy, China sent some of its most advanced military equipment for practice in Danish waters, which should be first and foremost seen as a political signal.

    "There is a strong signal value. They show off and indicate that they are standing with Russia. China and Russia have close cooperation when it comes to pushing the Western alliance back into their neighborhood," Liselotte Odgaard told Danish Radio.

    According to Odgaard, China's muscle-stretching should be seen as a signal that they agree with Russia in that the West is threatening Russia and not vice versa (which seems to be the West's firm belief).

    "It must be seen in light of the increased tensions in the Baltic. The Russians have installed missiles in Kaliningrad aimed at Europe, and NATO has sent troops to the Baltic countries. The Chinese hereby show that they stand together with Russia to respond to what they perceive as Western dominance in their neighborhood," Liselotte Odgaard said.

    Nevertheless, Odgaard somewhat inconsistently ensured there is no reason to be concerned about the exercise, since China was already present in Denmark and the rest of the West.

    "Today, all major powers are present everywhere, and China is massively present in terms of investment and infrastructure. It is not like during the Cold War, where there was a geographical division of the world," Odgaard said, adding that Denmark should avoid "unnecessary threats" to Russia.

    Julie Wilhelmsen, a senior researcher at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI), argued that the Russian-Chinese cooperation had an ideological dimension, as both countries "opposed American interventionism" and had a similar voting pattern in the UN on the military intervention in the Middle East, the Norwegian daily Dagbladet reported.

    According to research director Fredrik Westerlund from Sweden's Total Defense Research Institute (FOI), China's participation was primarily a security policy signal to "superpowers like the UK, France and the US."

    "There are no real reasons for China to build up military capacity in the Baltic Sea. It is more about politics than the specific military ability to work in the Baltic Sea," Fredrik Westerlund told Swedish national broadcaster SVT.

    Apart from China's debut in the Baltic, the Nordic nations were appalled at the very thought of Russian submarines lurking in their territorial waters, despite the fact that all ships have the right to free passage in accordance with the UN's Convention on the Law of the Sea.

    Of late, Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish media sounded the alarm over the passage of the Dmitry Donskoi nuclear-powered submarine and the nuclear-powered Pyotr Veliky battle-cruiser from their home port of Severomorsk on the Kola Peninsula to St. Petersburg to participate in the Naval Day celebration. Finnish national broadcaster Yle stressed that the size of the submarine matched that of ferries commuting between Helsinki and Tallin and emphasized that the sub is capable of carrying up to 200 nuclear warheads, "whose aim is to eliminate whole cities."

    With about a dozen warships and a dozen aircraft participating, the Russian-Chinese exercise is relatively limited when compared to the big NATO exercise Baltops held in June. Not only did Baltops gather about fifty ships and fifty aircraft from NATO members and their partners, but it also featured US B-52 strategic bombers in the Baltic Sea area for the first time, Swedish national broadcaster SVT reported.


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