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Russian Vostok-18 war games will include China for the first time



Russia Vladimir Putin navy day military generals salute
President Vladimir Putin inspects warships on the Neva River
during the Navy Day parade in St. Petersburg, July 29,

Klementyev/Kremlin via REUTERS

  • Russia’s latest iteration of its Vostok military
    exercise, set for mid-September, has attracted attention for
    its massive scale.
  • But just as striking a feature may be the inclusion of
  • Russia has long seen China as a rival, but tensions
    with the West appear to have triggered a shift by

Russia’s armed forces are gearing up for Vostok-18, or East-18, a
massive military exercise in the country’s far east from
September 11 to September 15.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said this week that about 300,000 troops and 1,000
aircraft will participate, using all of the training ranges in
the country’s central and eastern military districts. Russia’s
Pacific and Northern Fleets and its airborne forces will also

Shoigu said this year’s iteration of the Vostok exercise
will be “unprecedented in scale, both in terms of area of
operations and numbers of military command structure, troops and
forces involved.”

Russia Serbia Military Drill November 2014 Troops
Russian troops after a
training exercise in the village of Nikinci, west of Belgrade,
Serbia, November 14, 2014


But the size of the forces involved is not the only feature that
has turned heads.

Forces from China and Mongolia will also take part. Beijing
has said it will send about 3,200 troops, 30 helicopters, and
more than 900 other pieces of military hardware.

China’s Defense Ministry said the drills were meant to strengthen the two
countries’ strategic military partnership and increase their
ability to respond to threats and ensure stability in the

Kremlin spokesman Dmirty Peskov said China’s participation
“speaks about the expansion of interaction of the two allies in
all the spheres.”

Chinese forces have already joined their Russian
counterparts in some military exercises.

Russia China police border guard
armed police and Russian national guards during a
counter-terrorism drill in northern China, December 5,


Chinese warships have drilled with their Russian
counterparts in the Pacific Ocean and the Baltic Sea. This
summer, Chinese warplanes were in Russia for
International Army Games 2018, a multinational event.

This month, Chinese forces are taking part in Peace Mission
2018, an exercise organized by the Shanghai Cooperation
Organization, a regional bloc led by Russia and China. (It’s
the first exercise to include
all eight SCO members.)

But including China in the Vostok exercise hints at a
significant geopolitical shift.

“China was seen as the potential threat or target in exercises
like Vostok,” Alexander Gabuev, an expert on China at the
Carnegie Moscow Center, told The New York Times.

“But it is now being invited to join as a friend and even a
quasi-ally,” Gabuev added. “This is really unprecedented.”

The Soviet Union clashed with China along their shared
border several times in the 1960s — including a deadly Chinese raid on a
Soviet border outpost almost kicked off a full-scale war in early

Russia Vladimir Putin China Xi Jinping BRICS
President Xi Jinping with Russian President Vladimir Putin during
the BRICS Summit in China, September 4, 2017.

REUTERS/Wu Hong/Pool

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev normalized relations with
China in 1989, and some 6 million Russians in Siberia now live alongside roughly 100
million Chinese in northern China, where trade relations have grown.

But eastern Russia’s vast expanse and sparse population make it a
vulnerable area, and Russians there have expressed frustration with the
growing Chinese presence and with concessions to Chinese
commercial interests.

Amid heightened tensions with the
, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a
concerted effort to build ties with China. Beijing, for its part,
has also embraced Russia. Both have done so with an eye on the

Both have said they are building a
“strategic partnership” and expressed shared opposition to what
they describe as a “unipolar” world dominated by the US.

Russia Vladimir Putin China Xi Jinping
President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a
concert in Xiamen, China, September 3, 2017.

Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via

Earlier this year, Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe
went to Moscow on his first
trip abroad, saying the visit was to “let the Americans know
about the close ties between the armed forces of China and

“I am visiting Russia as a new defense minister of China to
show the world a high level of development of our bilateral
relations and firm determination of our armed forces to
strengthen strategic cooperation,” Wei said.

That rhetoric and statements about close ties don’t mean that
Russia has dropped its guard, Gabuev said, noting that Chinese
troops at Vostok-18 may be limited to training areas near the
countries’ shared border with Mongolia, allowing Russian forces
deployed elsewhere to carry out exercises designed with China in

The Russian military “is not so naïve that it is not preparing a
contingency plan,” Gabuev told The Times.

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