As Russian troops started their first joint military exercise with China, the war game is seen as a manifestation of the Moscow-Beijing bilateral “strategic partnership.” But at the same time, Russia’s simultaneous northern war game appears intended as a demonstration of Moscow’s strategic military might.
Russo-Chinese maneuvers started four days ahead of schedule, on August 14, when some 1,800 Russian and 8,000 Chinese troops began joint training near Qindao, a coastal area of China’s Shandong province.
The war games involve Russia’s Il-76 transport planes with paratroopers, Tu-95MS bombers firing cruise missiles at targets in the sea, and Su-27SM fighter jets simulating coverage of ground forces. Ships from the Pacific Fleet sailed to China’s coasts, while troops from the Pskov 76th Airborne Division have also moved to exercise zone.
Russia dispatched some 2,000 troops to be involved in the war games, which are scheduled to last eight days. Warships from the Russian Pacific Fleet, including a BDK-11 landing vessel, the Marshal Shaposhnikov anti-submarine vessel, and a Burny destroyer will take part in the joint exercises.
Russia reportedly rejected a proposal to hold the maneuvers in Zhejiang, a coastal province near Taiwan. Instead, the exercise was shifted some 500 miles to the north, to the Shandong Peninsula.
While the drill has raised concerns in Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has stated that Russia does “not care” about other countries’ anxieties over the Russo-Chinese military exercises.
Moreover, military maneuvers are seen as a long-term element in the bilateral relationship. On August 8, the Russian government approved a Russian-Chinese agreement on the status of military units temporarily deployed in both countries for joint military maneuvers. According to the agreement, both sides can send troops by mutual agreement to the respective countries to conduct joint military exercises. The agreement has an unlimited term, but either side can cancel it with 90-days notice.
The maneuvers are designed as an anti-terrorist drill. According to the war game scenario, a fictitious state plagued by terrorist violence has sought assistance from neighboring states (i.e. Russia and China) to restore law and order.
Russian media outlets largely subscribed to the official line regarding the rationale behind the joint drill. NTV television ran a report on the maneuvers’ launch in China, saying the drill was mainly anti-terrorist in nature and also is intended to boost bilateral military ties.
However, some media outlets have questioned the motives behind the war game. Russia’s Nezavisimaya gazeta reported that the drill’s scenario involved anti-submarine and anti-aircraft operations, as well as cruise missile launches. But as international terrorists have yet to acquire any naval or air forces, the relevance of the drill’s scenario remained open to debate (Nezavisimaya gazeta, August 15).
Russia’s Northern Fleet also held strategic maneuvers in the Barents Sea this week, which involved testing a new cruise missile. According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, observing the drill aboard the Peter the Great missile cruiser, non-nuclear strategic weapons such as cruise missiles could be used against terrorists. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov agreed, “Now we have a weapon to combat terrorism” (RIA-Novosti, August 17). Russian media outlets picked up the official arguments, and NTV reported that Russian would destroy terrorists by cruise missiles (NTV, August 17). Putin flew in a long-range Tu-160 strategic bomber, sitting in the pilot’s seat, to a Northern Fleet base to attend the exercise.
The northern exercises involved surface ships, submarines, and naval aviation, as well as the Peter the Great and the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov. The maneuvers culminated with the Northern Fleet’s strategic nuclear submarine Yekaterinburg firing an intercontinental ballistic missile in the Barents Sea on August 17, reportedly hitting a target at the Kura testing ground in Kamchatka.
Russian media outlets hailed the northern war game as a demonstration of the country’s strategic might. “From the Barents Sea to Kamchatka in 28 minutes!” Channel One television enthused (Channel One, August 17).
In addition to military training, the two sets of war games also are opportunities to showcase Russian-made weapons before large audiences. Prior to the Northern Fleet war game, Putin opened the Seventh Moscow Aviation and Space Show, MAKS 2005. Also on August 16, Putin voiced support for a $300 million contract with India for the development and production of 1,000 engines to be used in jet trainers.
Russia also hopes to sign a major arms deal following the joint military drill with China. Last January, Moscow hinted it could sell advanced strategic weapons to China, including strategic bombers.
But those plans are already coming up against criticism. Russia’s Kommersant daily ran an article entitled, “Goodwill Mercenaries” that accused Moscow of joining the anti-American maneuvers to receive Chinese money. The newspaper alleged that the joint drill was fully funded by the Chinese. Now Moscow risks becoming a full-fledged political and military ally of China in an arrangement reminiscent of the Warsaw Treaty Organization, wrote Kommersant, warning that Russia would become the junior partner in such an alliance (Kommersant, August 18).