‘I do not think the Russian general staff is so naive as to think this is a definite long term alliance. There will naturally be mutual wariness’.
(Alexander Gabuev, chair of the Rusia in the Asia-Pacific Program, Carnegie Moscow Centre, quoted in the FT)
‘In China, we say that friends are revealed in misfortune. In Russia, too, there is a saying: A friend is not who walks to a feast, but one who helps in a disaster. Together with our Russian colleagues, we will increase fruitful cooperation in international affairs and intensity coordination … to oppose the policy of unilateral actions and trade protectionism’.
(Xi Jinping, after talks with Russia yesterday, quoted in the FT)
Seven days of war games in Vostok, eastern Siberia, started on Tuesday this week and will run through until 17th September 2018. The war games are shared between Russia and China and involve some ‘300,000 troops and close to 40,000 vehicles’, (Russian and Chinese). They coincide with an economic conference that is being held in the Russian town of Vladivostok, not far from the border with China and North Korea. In attendance at the economic conference Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, China’s President Xi Jinping, President of Mongolia Khaltmaagiin Battulga, Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe and Prime Minister of South Korea Lee Nak-yeon.
The biggest war games since the Cold War but this time, China has been invited
Russia invited China to participate in the war games and say that there is an increased importance to be able to defend themselves in the current international climate. China is the first country outside Russia that has ever been invited to do so. The joint exercises will give both countries an opportunity to look at one another’s military capabilities.
The war games include 300,000 soldiers, 36,000 tanks and other vehicles, 80 ships, and 1,000 aircraft operating across more than half the country. This, according to Mark Galeotti in the Atlantic, is double the size of the British armed forces. Furthermore, it is twice the size of the last Vostok war games which were held back in 2014.
Some 3,200 Chinese troops and 30 aircraft are also involved, along with a small Mongolian force.
What do war games involve?
‘Vostok is not just a big military-training drill—it’s a massive psychological-warfare operation and a geopolitical gambit, being undertaken by Russia as it regains much of its martial mojo and its ability to mount and coordinate complex operations’.
Mark Galeotti, The Atlantic
War games ops practise an attack on a foreign power by simulating conflict. They ensure that the army, navy and air force are able to work together should the need arise. It is normal diplomatic procedure to announce them in advance so that other countries are aware they are practising.
Vostok will take the form of a week-long clash between two sides, fought on land, in the air, and in the waters off the Russian Far East. The drills will include staging parachute jumps, conducting anti-terrorist operations and shooting down cruise missiles (The Atlantic).
Whilst the war games will carry out offensive and defensive operations, Russia say that the exercises are more for defensive purposes. Chief of Russian staff, Valery Gerasimov, has said that the joint military exercises are in line with Russia’s ‘defensive’ military doctrine (Independent, 11.9.18).
The joint operations will no doubt cause a stir in Washington who will be concerned about the two buddying up together in a bid to confront NATO.
Current talks at the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF), Vladivostok, Russia
Both China and Russia have pledged to resist attacks on their economies by the US as pressure mounts with increased tariffs on Chinese goods and Russian sanctions continue to remain in place. President Trump is preparing new US tariffs on $200bn of Chinese imports and China have vowed to retaliate. Trump has said that he is prepared to impose levies on a further $267bn in Chinese products in response (FT, 11.9.18).
China have moved closer together since the west imposed sanctions on Russia 4 years ago. Sanctions were first imposed in March 2014 over Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine and its seizure and illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula. The EU have renewed these sanctions every six months since then and they have now been extended until 15th March 2019.
At the two day economic summit on Tuesday, Mr Putin said that military tech cooperation had been discussed with his ‘great friend, Chairman Xi Jinping’ (FT, 11.9.18).
Russia and China share a 4,200 km border and the two countries have not been without their fair share of border conflict, including with each other in 1969.
Of the two countries, Russia has the most recent experience in military conflict; Ukraine and Syria, for example. China has not been involved in combat since 1979.
NATO, of which Russia and China are not part, have some 4,000 troops positioned close to Russia’s western border in an effort to deter Russian aggression.
China has a great deal of economic clout. They have lent money to Russia to fund ‘energy projects, oil and gas supply agreements and corporate joint ventures’ , (FT, 10.9.18). Chinese commerce business, Alibaba, have also agreed to team up with the state owned Russian Direct Investment Fund, Russian internet group Mail.ru and telecoms company Megafon, to develop a Russian online shopping portal (FT, 11.9.18). Both countries are keen to deepen economic and trade ties and they have floated the idea of using Russian and Chinese currencies for cross border trade, as opposed to the US dollar. Trump has cut off some Russian groups from using the US dollar.
To go back to Mr Galeotti writing in the Atlantic: ‘At a time when Washington and Europe have tried to isolate Moscow diplomatically, this is clearly intended as a message that Putin is still capable of making connections with countries not willing to follow the West’, (Atlantic, 12.9.18).
The Independent, ‘Russia launches biggest war games since the Cold War with more than 300,000 troops’, 11.9.18:
Washington Post, ‘War games and business deals: Russia and China send a signal to Washington’, 11.9.18:
The Atlantic, ‘Don’t fear the Russian military’, 12.9.18:
South China Morning Post, (referenced in the Atlantic article above), ‘Vostok 2018: a showcase of Russian military might and ties with China’, 10.9.18 (updated 12.9.18):
Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, ‘NATO, Russia drill their military forces amid raised tensions’, 13.9.18:
FT, ‘Chinese Soldiers Join Russia’s Biggest Military Exercises since the Cold War’, 10.9.18:
On the US China trade war, FT, ‘Lagarde warns of US China trade war threat to emerging markets’, 11.9.19
On the China and Russia summit that is happening now, FT, ‘Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin vow to fight protectionism, 11.9.18:
Further Reading and Useful References:
Florence Cahill, a senior analyst at GPW, a political risk consultancy (quoted in the FT article).
Alexander Gabuev, chair of the Russia in the Asia-Pacific Program at the Carnegie Moscow Centre (also FT article).
Vladimir Putin viewing military parade:
Map if Chinese-Russian border:
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