China joins large-scale Russian military exercises, defying the United States

The exercises will take place in the Russian Far East between August 30 and September 5

Chinese soldiers took part in a sporting event organized by Russia last Tuesday in Alabino, on the outskirts of Moscow.
Chinese soldiers took part in a sporting event organized by Russia last Tuesday in Alabino, on the outskirts of Moscow.MAXIM SHEMETOV (REUTERS)

Chinese troops will train side by side with Russian troops in one of Moscow’s most important military exercises to date. The Asian giant’s Ministry of Defense has announced that the People’s Liberation Army, the Chinese armed forces, will take part in the Vostok 2022 strategic exercises, which were announced a year ago to great fanfare. Soldiers from India, Belarus, Tajikistan and Mongolia will also participate. Meanwhile, the military exercises, intended as a display of strength by the Russian Armed Forces, are overshadowed by stagnant war in Ukraine.

The exercises will take place from August 30 to September 5 in Russia, at 13 locations in the Far Eastern Military District. The Chinese military maintains that these joint tests are part of the bilateral cooperation agreement between the two powers, emphasizing that “they are not related to the current international and regional situation.” According to the organ’s statement, the objective is to “deepen the practical and friendly cooperation of the participating armies, improve the level of strategic coordination and strengthen the ability to respond to various security threats.” The first time China participated in the Vostok –Russian for East– exercises was in 2018. That year, it sent 3,200 soldiers, 1,000 weapons, 30 planes and helicopters.

These are the first large-scale military exercises since the training that Russia used to mask its deployment near Ukraine before launching its offensive on February 24. The units of the Far Eastern Military District that have not been sent to the front will participate in them. The airborne forces, one of the most punished at the beginning of the conflict, and long-range aviation will also join the drills.

“Pay attention that only a part of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation participates in the special military operation (the offensive on Ukraine), and their number is sufficient to fulfill all the tasks set by the Supreme Commander-in-Chief (Vladimir Putin)”, the Ministry of Defense assured in a statement to justify these exercises, announced a year ago. The campaign in Ukraine continues without a clear horizon.

The maneuvers will be directed by the second in command, the chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Valeri Gerasimov, who has not appeared in the press since the first setbacks suffered at the beginning of the war nearly six months ago.

Friends at a price

The announcement comes after two weeks in which China has been conducting unprecedented military exercises around Taiwan, in response to the controversial visits to the island by Nancy Pelosi and, more recently, a delegation of five US congressmen. The Asian giant, which considers Taiwan part of its territory, whose reunification is “a historic mission,” perceives the high-ranking foreign officials’ trips to the island as a message of support for its independence.

Putin this week called Pelosi’s 19-hour stop in Taipei a “carefully planned provocation” by the United States with the sole aim of sowing chaos in the region. “The United States has

added fuel to the fire once again to stir up the situation in the Asia-Pacific region,” said the president at a congress on international stability. He went on to criticize the West for forming its own blocs, such as the Aukus, which includes Australia, United Kingdom and the US, “in an analogy of NATO in Europe.”

On February 4 in the Chinese capital, Beijing and Moscow closed ranks when Xi Jinping received his Russian counterpart before the opening of the Winter Olympics. The leaders called the long-awaited encounter, the Chinese leader’s first face-to-face meeting with another president since the start of the pandemic, an “unprecedented” and “unwavering” display of unity.

Russian soldiers participated in maneuvers on February 12 in the Belarusian region of Grodno.
Russian soldiers participated in maneuvers on February 12 in the Belarusian region of Grodno.LEONID SHCHEGLOV (AFP)

The two countries have strengthened their relationship in the last eight years, since Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and Beijing helped Moscow with a gas purchase agreement. But the joint statement in February marked a giant step forward in this rapprochement. It represented an explicit rejection of the global order led by the United States. For the first time, China declared its explicit opposition to NATO expansion and Russia to Aukus. In addition, Moscow affirmed Taiwan as part of Chinese territory, one of the great political priorities of the Xi government. The two presidents made it clear that the ties between their governments “have no limits.” China has refused to publicly criticize or endorse the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began 20 days after that meeting.

Although Beijing has criticized Western governments for cutting trade relations with Russia, the Asian superpower is taking advantage of this situation. “Chinese companies are actively buying raw materials because, due to sanctions, Russia is forced to sell at deep discounts what it used to sell to the European Union,” the Russian bank Tinkoff writes in a market analysis. Metallurgical companies “sometimes have to sell products to China below cost.” Discounts on hydrocarbons reach up to 50% off the market, depending on the sector.

The Vostok exercises will be the second joint exercises that Russia and China have carried out this year. In May, bombers from both nations flew near Japan and South Korea, forcing the two Asian countries to deploy their own fighters in response. Those 13 hours of maneuvers coincided with Joe Biden’s visit to Tokyo to meet with leaders of the Quad (Australia, India, Japan and the US). A year ago, China and Russia held joint training in northern China, involving more than 10,000 soldiers.

The United States has also recently held similar military exercises in various parts of Asia. US Army troops have practiced in Indonesia with allied forces, including Australia and Japan, and in South Korea, where hundreds of activists took to the streets of Seoul in protest.

Nuclear threat

The Belarusian regime will also send a delegation to Vostok 2022 to reinforce its support for Russia. Some 250 soldiers from a Belarusian mechanized brigade will participate in the exercises, the first large-scale exercises since the February maneuvers. The previous drills served as a platform to launch the Russian offensive on Kyiv on the shortest front, the one that crosses the Chernobyl region. Moscow continues to use nuclear power plants as leverage. The Russian Defense Ministry has warned that the huge plant in Zaporizhia could be bombed this Friday, coinciding with the Ukraine visit of UN Secretary General António Guterres.

Once again, Moscow accuses Kyiv of preparing alleged “provocations” to blame Russia. But Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has denounced that the latest attacks launched against a storage area for radioactive material came from Russian forces. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, has stated that the risk around that plant, where there are six reactors, “is serious.”

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