The U.S. intervention in Afghanistan was launched in October 2001 to be nearly two decades long. Russia’s military operation in Syria was launched in September 2015, and it has been going on for six years. Both powers justified their interventions by the need to combat international terrorism: while the U.S. was fighting against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban (terrorist organizations banned in Russia), Russia has fought against ISIS (a terrorist organization banned in Russia) and associated radical groups of the Syrian opposition.
It is difficult to compare Moscow and Washington’s campaigns as they are very different in scale, in their objectives and, particularly, in the specifics of their warfare. The U.S. operation in Afghanistan involved large numbers of American marines as well as military units of different sizes from several dozen U.S. allies and partners. Russia’s presence in Syria mostly involved its Aerospace Forces (the VKS) and a relatively small contingent of military police units.
The irrecoverable losses of the international coalition in Afghanistan have totaled over 3,000 people, with Americans accounting for about 80% of these; in the meantime, Russia’s losses in Syria have been smaller by an order of magnitude.
Money down the drain…
The U.S.-waged 20-year Afghanistan campaign is estimated to have cost an astronomical sum, something in between USD 1 and 2 tn. Various estimates put the cost of Russia’s six-year Syrian operation at USD 10 to 15 bn, which is significantly less than the American outlays as well as less than those of many of the U.S. junior partners in coalition (for instance, Germany alone spent some USD 50 bn in Afghanistan over the two decades).
These whopping outlays did not help the U.S. Although Al-Qaeda’s strongpoints in Afghanistan were largely eliminated in the course of the first three months of the military intervention as the surviving Taliban fighters were pushed out into the neighboring Pakistan within approximately the same time, the U.S. and its allies ultimately came to suffer a crushing defeat. Set by the U.S. leadership 20 years ago, the objectives have not been achieved, and the international coalition’s withdrawal from Afghanistan had essentially degenerated into a rather rushed and ill-designed evacuation.
At the same time, even Moscow’s most intransigent opponents admit that Russia was victorious in Syria. At the moment, at least, it is certainly a winner.
Russia did not have any fundamental military-technical or geographical advantages as compared to the U.S. On the contrary, the U.S. had a major advantage over Russia in transport accessibility and related logistics. Moscow only had two full-fledged bases in Syria—the naval base in Tartus and the airbase at Khmeimim. The Americans, though, not only used the military infrastructure of Afghanistan (including the infrastructure built by the USSR during its ten-year presence in the country) but also established bases in Central Asia, as well as many transport corridors via Pakistan, the South Caucasus, Central Asian states and Russia.
Two Military Operation Model
Why did Washington ultimately lose when Moscow succeeded?
First, although both the U.S. and Russia proclaimed the aim of combating international terrorism, the two operations had, in fact, quite different objectives.
In 2015, by saving President Assad and his inner circle, Moscow was saving Syria’s statehood; Russia was, therefore, defending Syria’s status quo.
Back in 2001, the U.S. intended to radically change the status quo in Afghanistan by installing a new political regime and implementing an ambitious plan for building a modern secular state. Clearly, the latter objective proved far more difficult than the former, especially since the country lacked the objective premises for successful state-building.
Second, Russia’s partners in Syria were Iran and Turkey, the region’s two leading actors. Each had—and still has—its own vital interests in Syria. Although these interests do not always coincide with those of Russia, the trilateral Astana format has demonstrated its effectiveness and stability. It was not destroyed even by such acute crises as the escalation in Idlib in early 2020.
Some fifty U.S. partners in Afghanistan mostly included current and potential members of NATO, ranging from the UK and Turkey to Georgia and Ukraine. Most of these nations had no vital interests to pursue in Afghanistan, and their involvement largely stemmed from their desire to demonstrate loyalty to the U.S. and support America’s well-meaning undertaking. Especially since America’s plans for Afghanistan, unlike its subsequent intervention in Iraq in 2003, were fully approved by the UN Security Council. It turned out, however, that values- rather than interests-based solidarity is not a particularly reliable foundation for an operation lasting many years.
Third, Russia was mostly opposed by international terrorist groups in Syria that ultimately viewed the country’s territory as merely one of the possible springboards for their operations. Today, they are fighting in Syria—tomorrow, they could move to the neighboring Iraq, or to Libya, or the countries of the Sahel, or any other place in the world with a situation most favorable for them.
The Taliban is a purely Afghan movement. Its fighters have nowhere else to go; they fought for their country and continue to do so. Even when, in the early 2000s, the international coalition pushed Taliban militants into Pakistan, they tried to get back home, sooner or later and at any cost. Islamic “globalists” and Islamic “nationalists” are motivated somewhat differently; figuratively speaking, the former have legs, the latter have roots.
Fourth, to all appearances, Russia’s operation in Syria was simply prepared much better than the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Russian Arabists, diplomats, military personnel and intelligence deserve credit for their understanding of the situation in Syria and the surrounding states.
The U.S. operation in Afghanistan had the appearance of a not-entirely-successful improvisation; the U.S. vision of this country was formed throughout the confrontation with the Soviet Union back in the 1980s, and they proved far removed from reality.
The Kremlin succeeded in making its limited presence in Syria stable, financially affordable and generally acceptable to the Russian public. The White House failed to do the same in Afghanistan.
Russia’s success in Syria is particularly impressive as—unlike the out-of-power Afghan leadership—Assad was (and still is) under U.S. and EU sanctions, and the West has not recognized the outcome of the recent presidential elections in Syria (although there were quite a few problems with the latest Afghan elections as well). Additionally, Syria has so far failed to regain full membership in the community of Arab states. Even so, Assad can be certain that he will wake up in his palace on January 1, 2022, as Syria’s president. At the same time, the political biography of Ashraf Ghani, who had spent the greater part of his life in the U.S. and had long held U.S. citizenship, has already come to an inglorious end…
Appropriate and inappropriate debates
Of course, Russia’s victory in Syria can only be claimed with significant qualifications. The country’s territorial integrity has not been fully restored as Turkey still controls the Idlib province in the West, the North is controlled by Kurdish units beyond the control of Damascus, while the Golan Heights in the South have been annexed by Israel. The danger of a new escalation remains in Syria while the ventures of post-conflict restoration are pushed further into the future. It is not entirely clear when and under what circumstances Russia’s military operation in Syria will end or whether Moscow has a detailed withdrawal strategy.
Nonetheless, whereas the long-term outcome of Russia’s operation in Syria can still be debated, the outcome of the Afghan campaign is in no doubt: the U.S. and its allies have suffered an obvious and extremely painful defeat. Today, it is a matter of downplaying the humiliation of this defeat as much as possible and preventing the American public from developing an “Afghanistan syndrome” as was the case with the “Vietnam syndrome” half a century ago. If the Republicans succeed in transforming the subject of “the Democrats stealing our victory in Afghanistan” into an item on America’s domestic agenda, debates on this matter might even affect the outcome of the 2024 presidential elections.
Russia’s operation in Syria has significantly bolstered Moscow’s standing in the Arab world and increased Russia’s prestige throughout the Middle East, where high reliability as well as consistent and predictable policies have always been in value.
Washington’s reliability as a strategic partner and security guarantor has once again been cast into doubt. NATO’s ability to conduct successful operations far from their traditional area of operation is in even greater doubt. Certainly, the defeat in Afghanistan will have a rather detrimental effect on the morale of the U.S. military.
It should be mentioned that Afghanistan merely is the most graphic illustration of the American military presence shrinking throughout the world. The Pentagon will now have to more actively prepare to conduct autonomous operations, without relying on the existing military infrastructure of its allies and partners.
What lessons can we learn for the future from this brief comparison of the two interventions of the early 21st century?
First: victory cannot be guaranteed by an overwhelming military superiority over the adversary or virtually unlimited financial resources or broad international support or even readiness to maintain an occupation for decades. Attempts to impose a specific socioeconomic and political system on a nation that, for whatever reason, is not ready for it will inevitably end in failure.
No matter what we think of Syria’s leader Bashar al-Assad, we can but recognize that he enjoys the support of, at least, a part of the Syrian society. No matter what we think of the Taliban, this movement clearly reflects, in some manner, the interests of large groups of the Afghan population.
Political settlement in Syria is inconceivable without the participation of the present leadership in Damascus. On the contrary, over the 20 years of international occupation, Afghanistan failed to develop an efficient central authority, strong political and state institutions as well as resolve the problems of corruption, nepotism and clan loyalty. In 2021, just as back in 2001, significant portions of the Afghan population, especially in the provinces, have no access to many basic social and economic services.
Syria certainly has many pressing socioeconomic problems similar to those of Afghanistan. Certainly, the efficiency of its state governance is also somewhat dubious. Yet, the stability of the state in Syria has proved to be far greater than that of the Afghan state.
Besides, both in Syria and in Afghanistan, victory in state-building is impossible without active collaboration with regional actors. No international coalition founded on shared democratic values and loyalty to the leader will be substitute for cooperation with the neighboring states. In the case of Syria, Iran and Turkey turned out to be just such irreplaceable neighbors. In the case of Afghanistan, these are primarily Pakistan, China, Iran, Central Asian states, Russia and, possibly, India. The rich Persian Gulf nations may also take part in Afghanistan’s economic restoration, as may the European Union under certain circumstances.
Nonetheless, Beijing and Islamabad will be the main external actors taking part in determining Afghanistan’s future. Beijing is on the list because China will inevitably become the country’s principal foreign investor and trade partner. The Taliban’s official representatives have already hastened to say that they welcome China’s economic presence in Afghanistan. Islamabad is on the list as well because Pakistan has the broadest range of means to influence the Taliban. To some degree, it is fair to say that the Taliban’s military victory is also a victory for Pakistan. At the same time, it would be a major mistake to consider the Taliban a mere puppet in Islamabad’s skillful hands: the Afghan movement, for instance, actively keeps in touch with separatists among the radical Pashtun movements in Pakistan.
Iran will most likely be the third member of the leaders’ trio as it holds long-standing and solid positions in the West of Afghanistan. Iran’s relations with the Taliban have always been complicated, with frequent conflicts—but given Tehran’s pragmatic foreign policy, there is no doubt they will reach some kind of compromise with the victorious Taliban.
Russia and Afghanistan
Unlike Syria, where Moscow plays a largely central role as a guarantor of the country’s stability and territorial integrity, Russia is not a major league player in Afghanistan so far. Moscow has neither Beijing’s economic capabilities nor Islamabad’s political tools; unlike Iran, it does not share a long border with Afghanistan.
There, however, remains a lingering “Afghanistan syndrome,” and the Russian public is strongly opposed to any form of military involvement by Russia in Afghanistan.
In the late 1990s, Moscow did actively collaborate with Uzbek and Tajik groups united in the so-called Northern Alliance in the North of Afghanistan. Following the international occupation of Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance was disbanded to see some of its leaders join the team of then-president Hamid Karzai. Even though there is talk today of the Northern Alliance being revived, this has not yet had any effect on the battlefield balance of power and has not provided Moscow with any additional capabilities.
The tasks Moscow is setting itself today in Afghanistan are fairly modest, more so than those set for the Russian military in Syria in 2015.
First, it is important to prevent the military and political instability in Afghanistan from spilling across the borders of Russia’s allies in Central Asia and to prevent flows of refugees and forced migrants. Over 2.5 million Afghan refugees, or maybe even double this figure, are already dispersed throughout the world.
Second, Moscow needs to prevent international terrorist groups, like Al-Qaeda or ISIS, from transforming Afghanistan into a springboard for their operations in Central Asia or, for that matter, in Russia. In this respect, Afghanistan is potentially an even greater threat than was Syria prior to Russia’s operation. The estimates of international terrorist group presence in Afghanistan vary widely; some sources claim there are at least 3,000 ISIS militants in Afghanistan with no fewer than nine military bases.
There are also claims that ISIS and the Taliban are engaged in secret talks, which presupposes the Taliban’s consent to ISIS being present in Afghanistan—provided they refrain from interfering in the country’s domestic affairs. It is hard to say how well-founded these claims are; they may be just attempts to discredit the Taliban in the eyes of regional actors.
Third, it is in Moscow’s interests to cut drug trafficking from Afghanistan into Russia and the neighboring states as much as possible. In the first years under the international occupation, poppy plantations in Afghanistan expanded from 2,000 hectares to 30,000 hectares. There are reasons to suspect international coalition members of condoning the unprecedented flourishing of Afghan drug trafficking and of being involved—directly or indirectly—in this lucrative business. The Taliban, for their part, actively began combatting drugs back in the late 1990s, since Islam decisively prohibits drugs. The future will show whether there will be any success in countering production and export of Afghan drugs in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal.
Much will depend on the perception of Afghanistan’s changing political landscape in the eyes of the U.S. and Europe. If Russia has to compete in Afghanistan with the EU and the U.S., Russia’s capabilities, which are modest as things stand, will prove even more limited. If the West decides to steer a course toward Afghanistan’s international isolation, any government in Kabul will have additional incentives to expand cooperation with Russia to at least somehow reduce its inevitable dependence on China.
Certainly, Moscow will have to sidestep—carefully—around many hidden pitfalls. For instance, how can possible complications with India, which has its own views of and approaches to Afghanistan, be avoided? What is to be done about the activities of Turkey, which claims an independent role in Afghanistan? What should be the response to Washington’s desire to preserve a residual military presence in the region by using the relevant infrastructure in Central Asia? Yet, no matter how important these and other questions might be, they should not distract Moscow’s attention from strategic collaboration with the principal regional actors in Afghanistan. The preliminary results achieved by Russia in Syria give us grounds to hope that the Kremlin might well succeed in avoiding obvious miscalculations in Afghanistan.
From our partner RIAC
Defence in the new age of AtmaNirbhar Bharat
Authors: Dr. Manan Dwivedi and Shonit Nayan*
Make in India is an all pervasive, all subsuming and all intrinsic entity to the new trajectory of innovation and development which the nation is adhering to with hits larger idiom of becoming a super power by 2047, with the other name being the nomenclature of indigeneity. India has been strengthened both symbolically and materially through the modicum of its G-20 Presidency and its role as a non-permanent members of the hallowed portals of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) with the entire conceptualization of the concept of human security, which itself takes us back to our Vedic and the Sanatani past.
As a neophyte when one dwelt inside as a kid into the tales of the long gestation time periodswhich go into acquiring new weapons technology and weaponry itself for the nation’s Defense forces, several rudimentary efforts have been in sway by the New Delhi denomination. The manner in which the TATA’s are tying up with the Boeing and the Airbus industries and the pace at which Adani has partnered with Lockheed Martin, makes a concerned citizen get up and take notice. There was a manner in which stories percolated to us that by the time a particularly potent weapon system would be operationalized by the military, it would have turned outmoded and obsolete. Still, the more optimists amongst us can avail of the pride that now the New Delhi dispensation has made it clear to the Global Defense investment and manufacturing interests that the foreign firms have to establish manufacturing hubs and nodes if they want to emerge as the key exports to the Indian Defense establishment. Also, as an attendant fact, the tangible narrative ascertains that the foreign firms would be free to export Defense weaponry to the foreign nations too while manufacturing in the country.
As an instance, Tejas is a single engine, Delta wing and multirole fighter designed by the Aeronautical Development agency with the Hindustan Aeronautics Agency, they are meant to replace the aging fleet of MIG-21’s in order to improve the aggressive and defense outreach of the Indian Air force and Indian Navy. The Tejas are part of the extension of the LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) which seeks to bring India in parity with few forces and their defense establishments. Keeping in view the fact and the attendant practice of the Comptroller and Auditor General, the new Tejas Mark 1 an aircraft carries 40 improvements over the Tejas aircraft built in 2015. Thus, the canny optimists amongst us can hope for better and ebullient news as far as the LCA and other procured and ingeniously manufactured weaponry is concerned. One need not relegate to the backburner the fact that the weaponry aid to the besieged Ukraine has stymied and effectively blocked the invading force of Moscow. With the Ukrainian President Zeklensky clamoring for more state of the art armaments such as the Leopard tanks from Poland and Germany, the significance kill potential of advanced machinery and their tell tale application serves as the “ differential “ between a military and Defense victory or a debacle and a defeat.
Self reliance in defense production has been one of the key attributes of the Indian defense Policy since the 1960’s. In the 2018 make in India defense programme there is an added emphasis on theskill enhancement and the technological expertise of the employees in the Aerospace and the Defense industry. The Defence Production Policy further elaborates and relates that, “Centres of Excellence with industry participation and with Government support, will be set up in niche areas to enable development of frontier technology areas with active involvement of academia and R&D institutions. 19.7 Competitive funded prototyping will be pursued during the design process to address the multiple challenges of technical feasibility, affordability, producibility and supportability.”
The Defense Production Department seeks to spawn a qualified and comprehensive production infrastructure in order to prepare weapons and platforms of the order of tanks. Fighter- multirole jets, helicopters, submarines, earth moving equipment, armored vehicles and heavy vehicles to add teeth and robustness to the Indian Defense establishment with the added carrot to the foreign investors who can further on export their weapons wares to other nations too with Indian stations serving as the manufacturing hub for the larger region. Thus, expediency, returns and self reliance all amalgamate into pitchforking India into the larger firmament of Defense production and Trade. Still, it needs to be emphasized that AtmaNirbharta does not contain itself into the constraints of plane jane self reliance but the entire vision of the conceptualization earmarks the new found perch and confidence of a rising India. It’s also a striving to let us relegate to the backburner, the dark shadows of Colonialism and place an end to the slave mindset of the nation’s hoi polloi and make them and the defense industry to gel with global innovation currents along with the stress on comprehensive citizenship.
*Mr. Shonit Nayan is a Programme Fellow at India Smart City Fellowship Program, Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs
What is behind the Recalibration of Japanese Security Policy?
On December 16th, 2022, the Japanese cabinet approved three crucial national security documents: 1) National Security Strategy, 2) National Defense Strategy, and 3) Defense Buildup Program. The documents collectively identify challenges and threats to Japan’s security and propose counteractive measures to be undertaken during the next five years, essentially marking a paradigm shift in Japan’s security policy and military posture.
The transformation: according to new policy documents, Japan would increase its defense spending to meet NATO’s standard of 2% of GDP by 2027 meanwhile spending a sum of $314 billion during the period on defense buildup. For the first time in decades, Japan would acquire long-range “counterstrike” capability to deter attacks besides pledging grand investments in developing cyber and space capabilities. To bolster counterstrike capability, Japan would acquire more F-35 aircraft capable of vertical landing and would invest in developing hypersonic weapons, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and 6th generation fighter jets — last in collaboration with Britain and Italy.
From its humiliating defeat in World War II until the 1970s, Japan maintained a low military profile and relied on the USA’s security umbrella for its defense. During the 1970s, Soviet military buildup in the Pacific and the USA’s growing engagements elsewhere compelled Japan to increase its military spending and by the end of the Cold War, Japan has transformed itself into the “world’s foremost military powers”. The steady buildup of military capabilities continued through the unipolar era given the regional threats — especially those emanating from North Korea and to some extent China — did not subside in all respects.
Changing Japan’s security outlook via revising Article 9 of the Japanese constitution has long been a goal of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which considers Japan’s constitution as reminiscent of WWII defeat and subsequent occupation by the USA. Nevertheless, the memories of Japan’s militaristic past and its aftermath long haunted the Japanese public, which remained vociferously averse to any such emendation. Therefore, despite having a two-thirds majority at one time, Liberal Democratic Party under the late Shinzo Abe as prime minister fell short of introducing any changes to Japan’s constitution.
The Abe government, however, did reinterpret the constitution and initiated a makeover of Japan’s security posture during its eight years reign (2012-2020). As James Stavridis puts it, “Shinzo Abe’s real legacy is military, not economic”. In 2014, the Abe government authorized Japanese troops to act in aid of an under-attack ally. The same year, Abe relaxed the ban on the export of arms, however with the caveat that the exports would only be allowed if they “contributed to the global peace”.
In 2018, the Abe government created National Security Council, which significantly enhanced Prime Minister’s authority in security affairs. Besides making institutional and organizational changes, Abe’s era saw a steady increase in Japanese defense spending by leveraging the country’s economy, which remains third biggest in the world. Tokyo acquired cutting-edge weaponry including missile defense systems, new-generation radars capable of detecting targets at a long-range, and fifth-generation F-35 fighters, mostly from the USA.
The recent policy documents mark the culmination of Shinzo Abe’s nearly decade-long efforts and essentially purpose to transform Japanese security posture from pacifist to more assertive. Propitiously for the Liberal Democratic Party, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, public opinion in Japan has reportedly shifted in favor of changes in security policy.
On the top of the internal predisposition to get away with the memories of WWII humiliation, the external security environment of Japan is also undergoing unprecedented changes, which made the aforementioned modifications inevitable.
China — categorized as the “greatest strategic challenge” in the Japanese National Security Strategy — now wields the world’s largest navy by the number of vessels and is speedily expanding to its military footprint in the Western Pacific. Likewise, nuclear-armed North Korea — classified as a threat in the NSS — has grown in belligerence as well as the capabilities. The communist aloof country conducted the highest number of ballistic missile tests during 2022 — one of which flew over Japan last October. Moreover, Russia has recently added Japan to the list of unfriendly countries after Tokyo joined Western sanctions against Russia. Moscow is not only increasing its military presence in the Pacific but is carrying out joint naval drills and air patrols with Beijing evoking anxieties in Tokyo. It goes without saying that the security environment for Japan has become more challenging and complicated than 1970s.
Although the USA has been trying to reorient itself towards the primary theater of Great Power rivalry i.e. Western Pacific, the transformed European security environment owing to war in Ukraine would likely inhibit the Washington’s unqualified reorientation towards the Pacific. Moreover, despite Japan under Abe smartly weathered the Trump assault against the US allies, the eccentric real estate tycoon did galvanize Japanese leadership to be prepared for another isolationist inhabiting the Oval Office. Hence the intent to share more burden in the alliance besides taking an assertive role in the regional security matters.
In essence, Japan now seeks to assume primary responsibility for its security meanwhile enjoying the shelter of the USA’s security umbrella and extended deterrence. At the same time, Japan is exploring options beyond the alliance with USA by expanding military partnerships and collaboration with other likeminded countries. The project to develop 6th generation fighter jet in collaboration with Britain and Italy, and the recent military drills with India underscore Japan’s inclination to expand its military partnerships beyond Washington.
The US tanks deal to Ukraine and the Sino-Russian military alliance
After the warnings of the Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council, “Medvedev”, of the possibility of establishing a Russian-Chinese military alliance against Washington, the most important questions and analyzes that arise in this regard revolve in their entirety around:
Will Russia implement its threats to establish that alliance?
What are the countries likely to ally with Russia to confront America?
And in the event that Russia implements its threats against the United States of America by establishing that joint military alliance with China, does this mean a weakening of American hegemony in world politics?
Then, what is the relationship of the tank deal that the United States and Germany intend to send to Ukraine with the order of that joint military alliance between China and Russia, and does China really accept a solid and joint military alliance in confronting Washington militarily?
In order to answer these questions, we will find that there is already an existing and joint strengthening of military cooperation between the Chinese and Russian sides, through Russian President “Putin” stressing to his Chinese counterpart “Xi Jinping” the importance of geo-strategic cooperation and technical-military cooperation between the two countries in the wake of the “interaction joint maneuvers” in 2022 between the two countries, which took place in the East China Sea in December 2022, with the assertion of the commander of the Russian forces participating in the joint military exercises with China, that it comes as a response to the violent increase in the number of US forces present in the Indo-Pacific region in the American concept or the Asia-Pacific region in the Chinese and Russian concept. This means that Russia is ready to cooperate closely with Beijing, in response to the American efforts to surround China, through the establishment of American military and technological alliances to confront China, such as the American quadruple alliance with India, Japan and Australia, or through the US nuclear defense Okus alliance with Australia and Britain, or from Through Washington’s military support for Taiwan in the face of Beijing and the increase in US arms and military equipment sales to the Taiwanese side, which arouses China’s ire.
In recent years, China has also taken the initiative to enhance cooperation between the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the Russian Armed Forces by conducting joint exercises and coordinated patrols in the area around Japan. As for the Chinese army, its cooperation with the Russian army and the Russian armed forces would contribute significantly to the implementation of the military, security and defense reforms that Chinese President “Xi Jinping” seeks to achieve, which aims to transform the Chinese People’s Liberation Army into one of the largest fighting forces in the world to be comparable in strength to the US Army.
We find that there is already existing and joint military cooperation between the Chinese and Russian parties in the field of joint military exercises, which has witnessed a clear increase in the recent period, and this cooperation in the security and defense field between China and Russia has acquired clear geopolitical connotations. In May 2022, China and Russia conducted joint sorties and air maneuvers over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea, which coincided with the summit of the leaders of the Quadruple Strategic Dialogue, known as “Quad” in Japan, which is a forum for political cooperation through which Washington seeks to turn it into a military alliance against China. Therefore, the joint maneuvers of Moscow and Beijing came to confirm that the two countries are cooperating militarily in the face of Washington’s attempt to establish military alliances against them, on top of which is the US Aukus nuclear defense alliance with Australia and Britain in the face of China.
Also, all the recent summits that took place between Beijing and Moscow focused, in their entirety, on Russian military cooperation with Beijing, as well as the two parties meeting to strengthen their strategic partnerships in the face of Western threats, and on their intention and desire to establish a multipolar international system, with what that means in the end. The US-dominated world order, which Washington seeks to respond to by pushing the NATO military alliance to adopt policies to besiege the Chinese and Russian countries.
China and Russia have conducted several joint military exercises in the Chinese Shandong Peninsula, and they were mainly focused on anti-terrorism exercises, and it was agreed after that to conduct peace mission exercises annually under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which consists of (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan).
Then this was followed by several joint naval exercises that took place on a permanent basis, and it was called joint seas exercises and maneuvers (or a joint Russian-Chinese naval interaction, as the Russians called it), and it was mainly concentrated in the Yellow Sea region off the Chinese Shandong Peninsula, with the participation of many Warships from both countries, in exercises simulating joint air defense, anti-submarine warfare, and search and rescue missions. Since then, joint seas exercises have been held annually between the Chinese and Russian sides (except for 2020), and their content is constantly changing. Since 2013, the geographical scope of the Russian-Chinese exercises has expanded, to include areas outside the immediate periphery of China, including Europe, and in chronological order those locations were:
(Sea of Japan in 2013, East China Sea exercises in 2014, Mediterranean and Sea of Japan in 2015, South China Sea in 2016, Baltic Sea and Sea of Japan in 2017, South China Sea in 2018, Yellow Sea in 2019, Sea of Japan in 2021)
China also participated in the “Russian Vostok joint military exercises” in 2018, which were held in the Eastern Military District of Russia and about 3,200 Chinese soldiers from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army participated. The Chinese and Russian militaries also carry out coordinated and periodic military missions in the geographical and territorial area surrounding the seas and in the airspace around Japan. Most of the joint military exercises and missions between China and Russia take place in the eastern part of the Sea of Japan, through the northern Tsugaru Strait (between Honshu and Hokkaido regions), along the Pacific coast of Japan, and then west through the Osumi Strait in southern Kagoshima Prefecture.
The main objective of conducting such military maneuvers between China and Russia, as declared by both parties, remains to unite forces against the United States of America and its allies, especially after its strained relations with both countries. In addition to Russia’s dispute with the United States of America and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. Recently, US tensions with Russia have exacerbated, due to the latter’s invasion of Ukraine.
Bearing in mind that Chinese President Xi Jinping did not respond directly to Russia’s desire for joint military cooperation, but merely referred to Beijing’s willingness to increase strategic cooperation with Russia. At the same time, there are US assurances that Washington has not monitored any indications of Chinese support for Russia in its war against Ukraine, unlike the case with North Korea and Iran, which Washington has accused of providing Moscow with ammunition and drones.
Here the message of the Russian President “Putin” to his Chinese counterpart “Xi Jinping” by expressing Russia’s desire for a military rapprochement between the two countries to confront what he called unprecedented Western pressure, with President Putin affirming the right of the two countries to preserve their positions, principles, and aspirations to build a just international order, in a Russian reference to the multipolar system, which will mark the end of American unipolarity, the Russian side assured its Chinese counterpart that military cooperation between the Chinese and Russian sides will support international peace and security.
Here, Washington expresses its concern about such cooperation, which may cover any shortage of military supplies that Russia needs to continue its war against Ukraine. It was remarkable that Western officials ignored this time threatening China if it sought military cooperation with Russia.
There is an official Chinese assertion through the official Chinese government media affiliated with the ruling Communist Party, that Beijing will continue to adhere to its objective and fair position on the war in Ukraine, which is based on the fact that the West caused this conflict by insisting on spreading NATO bases to countries located in the immediate vicinity from the Russian borders, which is in line with and confirms the Russian point of view, and contradicts its Western counterpart, which views the Russian-Ukrainian war as an assault by Moscow on a sovereign country.
We will find that after the summit talks between President Xi Jinping and Putin (shortly before Russia started its invasion of Ukraine), both the Chinese and Russian sides oppose further NATO expansion, and stand against the formation of closed blocs and opposing camps in the Asia-Pacific region. In this way, China signaled its support for Russia in its power struggle with NATO against Washington and the West.
On the other side, the economic and military cooperation between China and Russia has also been increased, since the start of the Russian military operation against Ukraine in February 2022, despite the United States’ threat to Beijing at the beginning of the war, to work to help the Russian economy find alternatives that help it avoid the repercussions of Western sanctions, However, it became clear that Beijing did not heed these American threats.
Here, China and Russia succeeded in arousing Washington’s military wrath, through Moscow conducting several multilateral maneuvers with the participation of China and India at the end of 2022, in order to confirm that Washington’s attempts to militarily weaken the relationship between Moscow, New Delhi, and Beijing will not succeed.
Hence, we can say that the relations between Russia and China have witnessed a remarkable growth in the military aspects in recent times, exceeding the limit of statements to the level of action and practical moves in the Indo-Pacific region or the Pacific and Indian oceans, as a joint Russian-Chinese response to confront the US alliances with its regional allies. In that region, accusing the American side of seeking and targeting the strangulation of the two countries in the first place. Especially after the series of security, political, economic and military alliances that the United States of America established against China and Russia in their regional region, led by the Aukus-Quad alliances against the interests of China and Russia mainly, coinciding with the escalation of the American provocations in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, with the policy of continuous American mobilization of its allies in Europe, and the imposition of several packages of sanctions against Moscow to paralyze the Russian economy after the Ukraine war.
Therefore, the Chinese-Russian response, on the other hand, was to strengthen their network of military and diplomatic relations in light of their tense relations with the US side and its allies, through political and economic partnerships and joint and extensive military exercises, and Moscow and Beijing’s keenness to conduct regular naval maneuvers between the two sides as threatening messages directed mainly at Washington.
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