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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Protest Greets Marines On Arrival in Far East

VLADIVOSTOK, Far East -- About 50 Russian protesters jeered as the U.S. naval ship USS Germantown docked Tuesday in this Pacific port in preparation for two days of military exercises with Russian sailors.

While Russian and U.S. sailors hailed the cooperation between the former rivals, demonstrators from communist and nationalist groups waved Soviet-era flags and sang patriotic songs on a pier in protest of the ship's arrival.

The maneuvers are part of the Cooperation at Sea exercises, and more than 1,200 participants will take part in the exercises, which will simulate a response to a natural disaster, including assistance to the populaton. It is the third time since 1994 that the U.S. 7th Fleet and Russia's Pacific Fleet have held joint exercises.

Demonstrators gathered on the waterfront chanting "Yankee go home," and brandishing anti-U.S. banners as the U.S. landing craft Germantown docked in the port.

"I want Russia to belong to Russia alone, and we don't need the military boots of American soldiers," one woman said in remarks reported by Russia's ORT television.

"We view these exercises as the covert, creeping intervention against the Russian people and the Russian soul," another elderly man said in the ORT broadcast.

Some opponents of the exercises have threatened to block the maneuvers with small fishing vessels.

The Germantown and 600 U.S. marines are to take part in the two-day maneuvers, dubbed "Cooperation at Sea-98."

Yevgeny Nazdratenko, governor of the Primorye region, in which Vladivostok is located, said Friday that he was not convinced the maneuvers were appropriate, because they involved "the landing of foreign military units practically inside Vladivostok."

U.S. naval officers said they were not fazed by the demonstration on the waterfront.

"We as Americans are used to these sort of events," Vice Admiral Harry Highfill said. "These people have this right and this is the voice of freedom speaking. It doesn't bother us."

The demonstrators have held several protests and local political leaders have also condemned the round of joint exercises.

The protest actions led Russian navy commanders to move the actual maneuvers to small islands 100 kilometers south of Vladivostok, instead of staging them on the city's outskirts as originally planned.

"These [protesters] just want political dividends out of this," Russian Pacific Fleet spokesman Alexander Kosolapov said.

"I have no idea who these people even are," Kosolapov added. "Everything we tell them just goes in one ear and out the other."