September 4, 2018

The War Against the Whole World

The “East-2018” SCPE in the context of Russia's relations with the West and the PRC

The main annual event in the military sphere of Russia is the strategic command-post exercise (SCPE) of the RF Armed Forces, which are held alternately on the North-Western, South-Western, Central (Central-Asian) and Eastern directions. In accordance with these directions, the exercises have conventional names “West”, “Caucasus”, “Center” and “East”.

Within the framework of the exercise, the results of operational and combat training of the Russian Armed Forces for the year are summarized, forms and methods of their combat use in the respective theaters of military operations are mastered. Besides, the SCPE is used by Russia for military-political purposes to demonstrate military power to its adversaries, first of all, the United States and NATO. This practice of Moscow became particularly large in scope after the resumption of the confrontation between Russia and the West as a result of the Putin regime's armed aggression against Ukraine.

The SCPE is used by Russia to demonstrate military power to its adversaries, first of all, the United States and NATO
The SCPE is used by Russia to demonstrate military power to its adversaries, first of all, the United States and NATO

It is precisely this role that is assigned to the SCPE “East-2018” (Vostok-2018), which began at the end of August 2018 with a sudden inspection of the RF Armed Forces. According to the Russian side, the scale of the exercise is the largest since the SCPE “West-81” in 1981, in the times of the former USSR. In particular, it involves 300 thousand military servicemen and 36 thousand pieces of military equipment. Besides, the focus is on the participation in the exercise of military units from China and Mongolia.

Thus, Moscow actually declares the Russian Federation's reaching the level of the Soviet Union both in its role in the world and in terms of its military potential. At the same time, the exercise is supposed to demonstrate Russia's ability and readiness to stand on equal footing with the United States and NATO, as well as its having a powerful ally — the PRC, which has its own disagreements with the United States of America.

Taking into consideration the above-mentioned circumstances, SCPE “East-2018” is Russia's direct response to the failure of its hopes to establish relations with the United States (in particular, during V. Putin and D. Trump's meeting in Helsinki on July 16, 2018), and to Washington's introducing new sanctions with critical consequences for the Russian economy.

In this context, we can't ignore Russia's comparing the “East-2018” SCPE with the “West-81” (Zapad-81) exercise, during which the scenario of a full-scale war between the USSR and the USA and NATO, including with using strategic nuclear weapons, was mastered. Proceeding from this, in fact, during the “East-2018” SCPE the same scenario is being mastered, however, in a symmetrical variant on the Eastern direction (which is due to the planned conducting of exercises on the Eastern operational theatre). This fact is not just not being concealed, but it is specially emphasized by Russian media and politicians.

Russia compares the “East-2018” SCPE with the “West-81” (Zapad-81) exercise, when the scenario of a full-scale war between the USSR and the USA and NATO was mastered
Russia compares the “East-2018” SCPE with the “West-81” (Zapad-81) exercise, when the scenario of a full-scale war
between the USSR and the USA and NATO was mastered

In this aspect, the “East-2018” SCPE is a logical continuation of the “'West-2017” and “Caucasus-2016” SCPEs, during which the RF Armed Forces were practicing strategic (front) offensive and defensive operations in the Baltic and Black Sea regions. In particular, the scenario of the “West-2017” SCPE included the RF Armed Forces' strategic offensive to restore Russia's control over the Baltic States. At this, a separate attack was inflicted on Poland.

 

Given the openly anti-American and anti-NATO nature of the RF Armed Forces' “East-2018” SCPE, China's participation in it is drawing attention. At first glance, it is quite obvious that China is demonstrating the possibility of taking common positions with Russia in confrontation with the United States. This issue becomes relevant to China because of the worsening of its relations with the United States after the introduction by D. Trump of additional duties on Chinese goods.

Given the openly anti-American and anti-NATO nature of the “East-2018” SCPE, China's participation in it is drawing attention
Given the openly anti-American and anti-NATO nature of the “East-2018” SCPE, China's participation in it is drawing attention

However, Beijing definitely pursues its own interests as well. Thus, in recent years, the PRC has been actively expanding in the region, which includes the actual “colonization” of Russia's eastern territories. Under this policy, China is making consistent efforts to gain access to Russian natural resources and expand another forms of economic activity, as well as for resettlement of the Chinese population surpluses into those areas.

At this, China relies on the superiority of its economic and demographic potential, and also uses for its own good the growing confrontation between Russia and the West, which makes Moscow seek other partners. It is precisely this situation that has become a catalyst for the development of Sino-Russian relations, which have gained particular momentum since 2014.

Moreover, in the current situation around Russia, it makes direct concessions to China, including on territorial issues. To date, it has already leased to the PRC about 3.6 million hectares of its territories, and is going to lease in the nearest future more than one million hectares.

All this has already enabled China to actually “colonize” the Trans-Baikal Territory of Russia and to significantly strengthen its positions in the Khabarovsk Territory. At the same time, such PRC's actions, which are accompanied by predatory looting of regional resources and harassment of the local population, cause the expected resistance of the local population and are perceived negatively in the country's political circles and public. In turn, this makes Moscow change its position on the events in the East of Russia. For example, while earlier neither the local nor the central authorities of the Russian Federation actually reacted to the above- mentioned problems, now they find understanding at the highest levels of Russian power.

Given China's strategic importance for Russia, Moscow is still refraining from open claims to the PRC, but already shows dissatisfaction with the situation. In particular, in July of 2018, while in Transbaikal, Chairman of the RF Federation Council V. Matvienko accused the local authorities of tolerating Chinese businessmen's illegal economic activity in the region and demanded its immediate cessation.

The exacerbation of the situation in the East of Russia could lead to worsening of Russian-Chinese relations and to the conflict between the two countries
The exacerbation of the situation in the East of Russia could lead to worsening of Russian-Chinese relations and to the conflict between the two countries

In general, these trends create a real possibility of the exacerbation of the situation in the East of Russia, which could lead to worsening of Russian-Chinese relations, and in the longer term — to the conflict between the two countries. In view of such a threat, the Russian leadership is intensifying measures to strengthen the Eastern Military District (MD) with military personnel, new types of armaments and military equipment. Thus, in 2017, the troops of the Eastern MD received more than 1.1 thousand pieces of weapons and military equipment, as a result of which the military power of the Eastern MD increased by more than 10 %.

Along with this, the nature of operational and combat training of the Eastern MD is changing. In particular, this refers to the moving from mastering the fight against armed rebel groups and terrorists to addressing the tasks of repulsing offensive actions of the enemy armed forces. Who else, besides the People's Republic of China, can be such an adversary of Russia in Transbaikal or in the Khabarovsk region, where such trainings are mainly conducted?

Does China's leadership understand this? Of course it does. That is why the People's Republic of China is taking part in the Russian military exercise “East-2018”. Thanks to this, Chinese military specialists are given a wide opportunity to study peculiarities of the future theater of military operations in the East of Russia, assess the status and combat capabilities of the Russian Army, and get directly acquainted with the strategy and tactics of its actions. As for the supposedly Russia and China's joint confrontation with the United States, it is just a cover for the true goals of the Chinese side.

An indication of this is the PRC's caring solely about its own interests in relations with Russia (as well as with other countries), which are purely practical in nature without any altruism. For example, China really finances only those economic projects that involve expanding of its access to Russian natural resources, namely, trans-border transport infrastructure, pipelines, as well as enterprises for mining minerals and primary processing of raw materials. At this, Chinese workers and equipment are mainly involved in their implementation. As a result, Chinese investments, which seem to be invested in the development of the economy of the eastern regions of Russia, do not do them any good and contribute only to China's own economic growth.

Chinese military specialists are given a wide opportunity to study peculiarities of the future theater of military operations in the East of Russia
Chinese military specialists are given a wide opportunity
to study peculiarities of the future theater of military operations
in the East of Russia

At the same time, China is expanding its military presence nearby Russia, accompanied by the intensification of operational and combat training of units and troops of the Northern Theatre Command of the Chinese PLA (formerly the Shenyang Military Region, borders on Russia), including offensives.

 

In general, it is quite a paradoxical situation, when Russia and China, on the one hand, demonstrate partner relations between the countries, and on the other hand, they are increasingly becoming potential adversaries. But then, we can draw some historical parallels. On the eve of the Second World War, a similar situation arose between the Soviet Union and Hitler's Germany, which united in a joint confrontation with France and the United Kingdom and divided the spheres of influence in Europe. In this regard, the PRC's participation in the “East-2018” SCPE is very similar to the joint parade of the Red Army and the Wehrmacht on September 22, 1939 in Brest after the joint occupation of Poland. What it ended in, is well known. Russia and China are quite obviously heading to the same ending.