Russia and China held an anti-terrorist drill in Moscow region, September 4-6, designed to promote interoperability between their special services and special forces in another public display of the growing security agenda in the Sino-Russian strategic partnership. China sent its armed police to participate in the anti-terrorist exercise, “Cooperation 2007,” marking its first such use beyond China’s borders.
The exercise was held over three days and in three stages; joint preparations and planning, carrying out combat deployment, as well as carrying out joint combat operations. Lieutenant General Huo Yi, deputy commander of China’s People’s Armed Police (PAP) and director general of the Chinese side of the Cooperation 2007 exercise, described the aims of the exercise as clamping down on terrorism, building mutual trust, and promoting Sino-Russian cooperation, while pointing out that it was not aimed at any third country (Xinhua, September 2).
Beijing also considered this to be an opportunity to build on the success of the SCO anti-terrorist exercise “Peace Mission 2007,” held August 9-17. Approximately 600 personnel took part, attempting to rehearse real combat as closely as possible. Moscow wanted to use the exercise to exchange counter-terrorism experience with China’s armed police. The “Xuebao Commando” of the Chinese PAP, which took part in Cooperation 2007, arrived in Moscow on September 1 to engage in planning meetings. China’s “Snow Leopard Strike Force” also worked with Russia’s Spetsnaz special operations force (Xinhua, September 4). This special forces unit may, in fact, be the “Hunting Leopards” drawn from the Chengdu Military Region. They reportedly participated in an anti-terrorist exercise in 2002 in the Xiling Mountains. Although they are among the most secretive unit in China’s special forces, it has been rumored to have links with PAP.
Wu Shuangzhan, PAP commander, addressed a ceremony marking the start of the exercise. Noting the increasing internationalization of terrorism, he pointed out that, in response, both countries have prioritized joint measures to combat terrorism. Beijing is keen to improve the counter-terrorist capabilities of its specialized anti-terrorist units as they work alongside their Russian counterparts. Russia’s Interior Ministry shares such concerns and, while recognizing that each country faces threats from terrorism, it also believes there is much to gain through cooperating with China. Joint exercises, for example, promote the need to update equipment on the part of both sides, improve the interoperability of personnel, and exchange experience. Russian and Chinese security personnel inspected the arms and equipment of either side (Interfax, September 5; Xinhua, September 4).
Historical models based on actual terrorist incidents in Beijing and Moscow are being utilized to guide planning calculations. Cooperation 2007 began with Chinese special forces storming a local concert hall that had been seized by people posing as terrorists. The actual maneuvers were not lengthy, but the planning staffs prolonged the exercise in order to include a period for negotiating with the terrorists, before the final storming of the building. This was intended as part of the plan to make the conditions more realistic. In fact, the length of the exercise — three days — and elements of its operational procedures were reminiscent of the Nord-Ost siege in October 2002, when Chechen militants seized the Dubrovka theater in Moscow (Xinhua, September 4).
The “crisis” in the scenario was triggered by the arrest in China of the leader of an international crime syndicate; his connections responded by taking hostages in Russia, including Chinese citizens. As events unfolded, Chinese special forces were called on to support Russian police. The concert hall was quickly surrounded, while inside the building terrorists appeared on stage announcing to the audience that they had been taken hostage. The press were invited inside the building, but only for a short time. The militants demanded a ransom of $2 million. Reportedly, the special forces were unaware in advance of certain elements that emerged during the exercise, for example shots were heard coming from inside the building, testing the reaction of the security personnel. According to the scenario, hostages had been shot. Armored personnel carriers were used to deploy forces, marksmen were deployed, while the tense situation inside the concert hall deteriorated with terrorists armed with grenades proving increasingly volatile. The exercise headquarters, meanwhile, began frantically planning the storming of the building (NTV, Mir, September 4).
The Sino-Russian strategic partnership is not trouble free, although recent efforts to bolster the SCO’s security dimension have involved greater cooperation between Beijing and Moscow. This latest joint exercise, aimed at promoting interoperability between the special forces and intelligence services of both China and Russia, suggests that planning staffs are taking seriously the prospect of conducting an actual operation, should the need arise. It is particularly worth noting that the scenario focused on a domestic event, rather than themes drawn from al-Qaeda-linked terrorism. China’s interest in such security initiatives may be motivated by its need to develop security plans for countering terrorism in connection with the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. In this sense, the current high level of interest in countering terrorism through bilateral activities with Russia and multilaterally through the SCO could be transitory in nature, being driven by the need to develop expertise and cooperation as a security measure designed to minimize the risk of terrorism at the Olympic Games.