The Chinese People’s Liberation Army has sent a delegation to Russia to take part in Moscow’s International Army Games next month, the first time the event has been held since Russia invaded Ukraine. A train carrying personnel, military tanks and vehicles recently left Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia in China’s north, headed to Zabaikalsk in Russia’s Far East, the military channel of state broadcaster CCTV reported on Monday, without giving further details. The Chinese team is expected to compete against counterparts from 37 countries and regions at the event – Russia’s largest multinational military exercise. It will take place between August 13 and 27 across 12 countries, including Russia, Iran, India, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Armenia. First held in 2015, this year’s International Army Games is being held amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West after Moscow attacked Ukraine on February 24. Venezuela – which broke off relations with the United States in 2019 after President Nicolas Maduro assumed a second term in an election that Washington considered a “sham” – is to host a sniper competition as part of the war games. It will be the first time the Russian-led exercise has been held in the western hemisphere. That could be a “strategic move” for China, Russia, Iran and Venezuela “to preposition forward-deployed military assets in Latin America and the Caribbean”, the Centre for a Secure Free Society, a Washington-based think tank, said in a recent report. Meanwhile, Niger and Rwanda will be the first African countries to make their debut at the games, according to the Russian defence ministry. China has been a regular participant since 2015 and will host three competitions, including an infantry fighting vehicles game and a frigate race. Chinese and Russian forces have stepped up joint military exercises since 2005, both bilaterally and through multilateral platforms, and these have become more regular in recent years as both countries face increasing acrimony from the West. China’s PLA is also looking to learn from its Russian counterparts, which have carried out military operations in a number of regions in recent years, from the North Caucasus and Georgia to Ukraine and Syria. While Beijing and Moscow have said their military cooperation does not target any third country, it has prompted growing suspicion from the West. In its latest defence white paper released on Friday, the Japanese defence ministry said the deepening of military cooperation between China and Russia, including joint air and navy drills in Northeast Asia, “will have a direct effect on the security situation surrounding” Japan. The International Army Games, organised by Russia’s defence ministry, brings together the militaries of dozens of countries every year in an event it says is to sharpen their skills in combat operations, including a 50km (31-mile) march through the snow. It comes as 14 Nato allies last month took part in a 13-day joint exercise in the Baltic. Among those taking part were the United States, Norway, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Belgium. Finland and Sweden – which applied for Nato membership after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – also joined the exercise. It involved more than 45 ships, 75 aircraft and 7,500 personnel and covered amphibious operations, anti-submarine and air defence drills that Nato said would demonstrate the flexibility of the maritime forces.