Vienna, July 21 – For the third time in the last four years, Russia and China are conducting joint military exercises, this time in contrast to earlier ones directed not at imposing order on the territory of another state (2005), which many viewed as about Taiwan, or suppressing terrorism in Central Asia (2007) about countering separatist challenges.
The maneuvers, which begin tomorrow and will involve approximately 3,000 officers and men from the Far Eastern Military District and the Peoples Liberation Army, will begin in Khabarovsk and then shift to the Tao Nang base in the Shenyang military district of the Chinese Peoples Republic.
As military observer Vladimir Mukhin points out in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” the joint maneuvers with their focus on suppressing separatist challenges not only reflect the common concerns of the two countries but also provide a stronger basis for cooperation between their respective militaries (www.ng.ru/politics/2009-07-21/2_uchenia.html).
And while none of the senior commanders involved was willing to be specific, it is obvious, Mukhin continues, that Beijing is concerned about separatist challenges in Xinjiang and Tibet and Moscow is worried about separatist movements in the non-Russian republics of the North Caucasus.
Perhaps because the US viewed the 2005 games an implicit threat to Taiwan, Lt.Gen. Sergey Antonov, the deputy chief of staff of Russia’s ground forces, went out of his way to stress that “the upcoming exercises are ‘not directed against third countries.’” And his Chinese counterpart Ma Siao Tang added they were designed to promote “regional stability.”
These maneuvers are important for what they say both about the level of Russian and Chinese concerns about separatist challenges and about the possibility for the militaries of these two Eurasian countries to cooperate. But at least from the Russian side, they may have an even more important dimension.
As Moscow’s “Gazeta” reported yesterday, the Russian military’s own Caucasus 2009 exercises, which were completed July 6, did not go well. According to someone the paper identified as “a highly placed source in the General Staff,” innovations in command and control arrangements did not live up to expectations (www.gzt.ru/Gazeta/first-page/249920.html).
While this report may be no more than the anger of the Russian officer corps at ongoing reforms imposed from above by the defense ministry, the performance of the Russian army last year in South Ossetia was according to independent Russian and Western experts anything but first rate.
Indeed, several of the best such analysts concluded that Russia had succeeded against Georgia only because it was able to send in more troops than Tbilisi could cope with. The recent reforms were supposed to cure that situation, but this latest report suggests that they have not done so.
Consequently, the Russian military almost certainly will be seeking to work out its own command and control problems during the upcoming joint exercises even as it picks up pointers from the Chinese command, which appears on the basis of its performance in and around Urumchi to have a more highly elaborated doctrine in this area.
And that is all the more so because the Russian military has other problems as well. Having just completed the largest draft in many years last week -- one the Soldiers Mothers Committees denounced as among the most corrupt in memory -- the Russian command has announced plans that could compound those problems.
Yesterday, Gen. Vasily Smirnov, the deputy chief of the Russian General Staff announced that the military will seek to draft 320,000 young men this fall, roughly 15,000 more than the draft Moscow just conducted and in the face of continuing demographic declines which will likely lead to more abuses (www.gazeta.ru/news/lastnews/2009/07/21/n_1384947.shtml).
But at the very least, Smirnov’s announcement shows that the military’s efforts to move toward a professional army appear to have failed, despite the kind of civilian economic problems that might have made that easier, and that the Russian leadership is convinced that it needs a larger force to deploy against separatist challenges and perhaps for other purposes as well.