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Russia-China war games battle extremists, separatists

In a first, the games will range across Russian as well as Chinese territory near Khabarovsk in the far east.

By Correspondent / July 22, 2009

MOSCOWRussia and China on Wednesday opened week-long joint war games designed to counter a hypothetical threat from Islamist extremists or ethnic separatists that both countries insist look increasingly realistic.

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The coordinated land and air force exercises, dubbed "Peace Mission 2009," is not the first time the two Eurasian giants have flexed their collective military muscles, but experts say both are driven by a growing sense of urgency stemming from what they see as a deteriorating security picture in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, as well as the eruption of ethnic riots in China's Xinjiang Province earlier this month, which killed almost 200 people according to official figures.

"Terrorist groups are using various measures, and they make use of Islamic slogans to carry out terrorist attacks," Nikolai Makarov, chief of the Russian Armed Forces' General Staff told the official RIA-Novosti agency.

"The latest incident [in Xinjiang] shows that more and more separatist, extremist, and terrorist forces are emerging," he added.

The war games will, for the first time, range across both Russian and Chinese territory near the far-eastern region of Khabarovsk, and involve about 3,000 troops, plus 40 fighter planes and helicopter gunships.

Russian and China have been gradually strengthening their cooperation through joint leadership of the six-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which has evolved from a regional trade association into an increasingly assertive political alliance since its formation in 2001. Members include Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan; India, Pakistan, Mongolia, and Iran attend SCO summits as observers.

Some critics warn that the group is taking on an increasingly anti-American complexion, as when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attended the SCO's June summit in Yekaterinburg just days after his disputed election victory.

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