Russian warships visit Hong Kong for the first time to boost presence in region

The main objectives of the visit are to develop naval cooperation with the People’s Republic of China, including Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, says Russian commander

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 June, 2017, 7:07pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 June, 2017, 11:21pm

For the first time in modern history, two Russian Navy ships are making a non-official port call to Hong Kong, reflecting improved ties between Moscow and Beijing.

The guided missile cruiser Varyag and the mid-sized tanker Pechenga, both based with the Russian Pacific Fleet in Vladivostok, are due to leave port on Tuesday having berthed at the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal on Monday.

While port calls to Hong Kong by the US Navy are common, there has been no such arrangement for the Russian Navy.

Hong Kong is final stop for the two ships before returning to their home base. They also visited Busan in South Korea, Manila, Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam, Sattahip in Thailand and Singapore.

The visit to Hong Kong was aimed to strengthen Sino-Russian relations, Captain Alexey Ulianenko, commander of the detachment, said on Monday.

It was possible that the ships might also visit other cities in China and Japan on the current deployment, said another senior officer, Alexander Gorbachevsky, but no such orders had been received so far.

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“The main objectives of the visit are development of naval cooperation with the People’s Republic of China, including the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and rest and recuperation for the crew,” Ulianenko said.

“I assure you that Russian sailors are doing their best to strengthen friendship, partnership and cooperation between the people of our countries in the best interests of peace and security in the region.”

Military observers said the visits reflected Moscow’s broader new maritime strategy to invigorate its global naval presence.

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Collin Koh, a maritime security expert from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, said the move indicated that Moscow was keen to boost its presence in the Asia-Pacific, including the South China Sea.

“It will still lags behind the peak levels of the days of the Soviet Union, but it is still useful for it to demonstrate that it’s still a major power to contend with, not just in Europe or the Mediterranean but also in the Far East,” Koh said.

A report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in May said Russia’s reorganised and rearmed military forces were neither invincible nor broken and incapable, and that its capability was rapidly developing.

Chinese military expert Zhou Chenming said the port visit to Southeast Asian countries, especially those with lagging military capabilities, could benefit Russia.

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“Although the Varyag is not that advanced in modern military technology, it can still impress countries like the Philippines and Vietnam, who have competing maritime interests with China. In this way, Russia is taking advantage of China’s trust to sail in the South China Sea and perhaps secure business or even military deals.”

Commissioned in 1989 for the Soviet Navy, the Varyag features an array of deadly anti-ship, anti-sub and anti-aircraft weaponry. It has a crew of 520 and a maximum of speed of 32 knots (59km/h).