Chinese troops will travel to Russia for large military exercises amid heightened tensions over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
The joint exercises in Russia’s far east, which will include India, Belarus, Mongolia, Tajikistan and other countries, are held every four years. But the week-long manoeuvres will be presented by Russia as a symbol of international support despite sanctions and other efforts to isolate the country due to its war with Ukraine.
China’s defence ministry said its participation in the exercises was “unrelated to the current international and regional situation”. Beijing recently held its own military exercises near Taiwan following a controversial visit by a US delegation led by Nancy Pelosi.
Under Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, Beijing and Moscow have grown increasingly close. While China has claimed it has taken a neutral position in Russia’s war in Ukraine, the US has accused it of tacit support by failing to condemn the invasion and criticising western sanctions against Moscow.
Putin has used military cooperation, including weapons sales, as a way to lure in partners despite his conflict with the west. During an arms expo this week, he said Russia valued partners who “do not bend to the hegemon.”
“Russia sincerely values historically strong, friendly, and truly trusting ties with the states of Latin America, Asia, and Africa,” he said, adding that he was willing to offer them modern weapons.
The exercises, called Vostok, are usually massive, involving hundreds of thousands of troops involved in simulated war games. But Russia may invest fewer troops and vehicles in the drills this year as the country is bogged down in Ukraine and is attempting to prevent a potential counterattack in the country’s south.
In a statement, Beijing said its participation in the exercises was part of a bilateral annual cooperation agreement with Russia.
“The aim is to deepen practical and friendly cooperation with the armies of participating countries, enhance the level of strategic collaboration among the participating parties, and strengthen the ability to respond to various security threats.”
A year ago this month, Russia and China held joint military exercises in north-central China involving more than 10,000 troops. The Russian defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, praised the Sibu/Cooperation-2021 drills in China’s Ningxia and suggested they could be developed further.
In October, Russia and China held joint naval drills in the Sea of Japan. Days later, Russian and Chinese warships held their first joint patrols in the western Pacific.
The next month, South Korea’s military said it had scrambled fighter jets after two Chinese and seven Russian warplanes intruded into its air defence identification zone during what Beijing called regular training.
Shortly before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, Beijing and Moscow announced a “no limits” partnership, although US officials say they have not seen China evade US-led sanctions on Russia or provide it with military equipment.
Russia’s eastern military district includes part of Siberia and has its headquarters in Khabarovsk, near the Chinese border.