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Vostok 2022: Russia and China Display Their Military Cooperation by Hélène de Lauzun

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Vostok 2022: Russia and China Display Their Military Cooperation

This past year, we have witnessed the strengthening of political and military ties between Russia and China as an effect of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. What has conceivably become an expansion of a Sino-Russian alliance includes adding India to the mix.

From September 1st, military exercises have been held in the Russian Far East with Russian, Chinese, Belarusian, Syrian, and Indian participants. These exercises, which are expected to conclude on September 7th, bear no direct link with the current conflict in Eastern Europe. 

The “Vostok” (“East” in Russian) military exercise is held every four years at the end of the summer. China, Belarus, and Syria participate as traditional Russian allies. The Indian presence this year is more unexpected. 

The Russian Defence Ministry announced in a statement the deployment of “more than 50,000 military personnel, over 5,000 pieces of weaponry and military equipment, including 140 aircraft and 60 warships and support vessels.” The details of the forces aligned by each country are not known. The exercises will consist of “training for defensive and offensive actions” on land, in the air, and at sea—in the Seas of Japan and Okhotsk.

According to state media, China has sent 2,000 soldiers, 300 vehicles, 21 aircraft, and 3 warships. “A destroyer, a frigate, and a supply tanker,” says researcher Marc Julienne, head of China activities at the Asia Centre of the IFRI (French Institute of International Relations).

The number of troops on the ground is much lower than in the previous 2018 exercise when the Russians alone had committed more than 300,000 soldiers. But the symbolic significance of this event is quite different. It is an explicit display of the Sino-Russian alliance on the international stage, with the elaboration of virtual war scenarios engaging the joint action of the contingents thus mobilised. 

The United States is the main target of this life-size message on the deepening of strategic cooperation between China and Russia. For China, at a time when the crisis over Taiwan has not been resolved, Vostok 2022 is an opportunity to show the Americans that the country is not isolated internationally. Maritime manoeuvres are planned in the Sea of Japan, which cannot fail to worry Japan, whose relations have deteriorated considerably with Russia and China, especially over the Kuril Islands

India’s presence in this gathering is more difficult to analyse, as India’s hostility towards China remains extremely strong. But India is dependent on Russia for both energy and armaments, as it has a lot of Russian equipment at its disposal, despite recent efforts to turn more toward Western supplies. 

Its participation in Vostok 2022 allows it to maintain the balance between the two camps, in the Indian tradition of the Third Way.

Hélène de Lauzun studied at the École Normale Supérieure de Paris. She taught French literature and civilization at Harvard and received a Ph.D. in History from the Sorbonne. She is the author of Histoire de l’Autriche (Perrin, 2021).