In the immediate aftermath of Russia’s recent joint military exercise with China, the Kremlin lost little time to further boost the bilateral “strategic partnership.” Notably, visiting Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan was received at the highest levels, indicating the growing importance of bilateral military ties.
Following talks with Cao, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov announced that military ties between Moscow and Beijing would be the cornerstone of a bilateral strategic partnership. “Military-technical cooperation … constitutes one of the main parts of the strategic partnership between Russia and China,” he declared. Ivanov also noted that Russia’s military ties with China are based on non-proliferation principles (Interfax, September 8).
Moreover, at a meeting with Cao at the Russian president’s residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that bilateral relations were reaching their apex. Putin also stated that the recent joint military exercises had come as a manifestation of the strategic nature of bilateral cooperation. He told Cao: “I would like to congratulate you on the successful exercises” (RIA-Novosti, September 7).
The Chinese defense chief echoed the Russian optimistic pronouncements, saying, “The Peace Mission-2005 military exercise gave new dynamics to the cooperation between the armies of the two countries” (RIA-Novosti, September 6).
However, the Kremlin reiterated that it was not banding together with Beijing to challenge the West. Russia and China do not intend to create new military blocs, Russian Defense Minister Ivanov affirmed (Itar-Tass, September 6). The recent Russian-Chinese joint military exercise was not aimed at other countries, Ivanov emphasized after meeting with Cao. “The exercise should not be regarded as an attempt to form military blocs” (RIA-Novosti, September 6).
Moscow backed up its “strategic partnership” rhetoric with a major weapons deal. On September 8, Ivanov confirmed that China had agreed to buy military planes from Russia. Specifically China agreed to procure Ilyushin Il-76TD transport aircraft and Il-78 re-fuelling planes (Interfax, September 8).
The deal to sell 38 Il-76TDs could be worth more than $850 million, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported on September 8. The Il-76TD aircraft are built at a plant in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, that is known under its Russian acronym: TAPO. In 2003, the Russian state-run arms exporter clinched an exclusive deal with TAPO to market its aircraft overseas. Russia is expected to receive 65% of the proceeds from the sale, while the remaining 35% would be transferred to the Uzbek side (Kommersant, September 8).
China already has 30 Il-76TDs and 4 Il-78s, sold by Russia in the mid-1990s. It was understood that part of Russia’s agenda for the war games would be sales pitches for its aircraft, including the Tu-22 and Tu-95 strategic bombers. However, no deals concerning those bombers were announced during Cao’s trip to Russia.
China tops the list of importers of Russia’s military hardware. Over the past three years, Moscow and Beijing have signed contracts worth some $5 billion, including Su-30MKK fighters, Project 636 diesel submarines, projects 956E and 956EM destroyers, S-300PMU-2 air defense missile systems, and S-300f Reef naval missile systems (Interfax, September 6).
Ivanov also claimed that Russia was prepared to compete with European arms suppliers in China. “Sooner or later, the EU embargo would be lifted. Russia knows the Chinese market well and is not afraid of healthy competition,” he said (Interfax, September 8).
Also at Sochi, a session of the joint Russian-Chinese intergovernmental commission for military and military-technical cooperation met behind closed doors. Ivanov and Cao co-chaired the session.
In 1992, Russia and China set up the bilateral intergovernmental commission for military and technical cooperation. It convenes once a year, alternately in Russia and China. The most recent meeting (the 11th overall) was held in Beijing December 12-13 last year (RIA-Novosti, September 8).
Now the Kremlin wants to hold more joint military exercises. Putin has recently ordered Ivanov to prepare for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization joint war games, similar to the August joint exercises with China (Interfax, August 31). Furthermore, Russian newswires cited anonymous defense ministry sources as claiming that trilateral war games between Russia, China, and India could be held in 2006 (Interfax, August 26).
Beijing appears amenable to holding yet another war game. Russia and China may stage joint military exercises in 2006, Cao told Putin. “Next year will mark the Year of Russia in China and Chairman Hu Jintao said that our two armies should also do something to mark the Year,” Cao said (Interfax, September 6).
In the meantime, Russia and China are also mulling an expansion of nuclear cooperation. The ninth session of the Russian-Chinese subcommittee for nuclear issues, which met in Moscow on September 6, reportedly discussed the construction of the Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant in China. Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom) head Alexander Rumyantsev and Zhang Yunchuan, head of the Chinese Scientific and Technological Industry Committee of National Defense, also discussed cooperation in building floating nuclear power plants. Russia and China have also signed a protocol to develop their cooperation in space nuclear energy, Rumyantsev announced after the session (RIA-Novosti, September 7).