Are Russia and China forming a military alliance? Specifics about any type of cooperation or details related to combined training may not be available but it’s notable that a Chinese government-backed newspaper says Russian and Chinese troops are preparing for an upcoming ZAPAD/Interaction-2021 exercise in China. This will be the first joint military exercise between the two countries following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Russia will be provided with modern weapons and equipment from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, according to the Global Times newspaper.
“It is a move Chinese experts said displays a high level of mutual trust and will enhance joint combat capabilities of the two militaries,” according to the Global Times.
America’s removal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan has created a greater need to ensure stability in Central Asia, a mission better supported by Russian and Chinese cooperation, according to the newspaper.
For instance, Russian forces are learning how to drive Chinese armored vehicles and medium-wheeled tanks, in what could be seen as a substantial military-to-military cooperation exercise.
Such a prospect introduces new threat equations for Defense Department leaders contemplating deterrence strategies and potential combat scenarios. A Russia-China military alliance presents extremely serious complexities for the United States. The combination of Russian and Chinese land forces, in terms of sheer numbers and the quality of armored vehicles, could present problems for U.S. deterrence efforts. For instance, this would be particularly true if a Chinese advance into India were fortified by Russian mechanized vehicles or a Russian advance across the Baltics could somehow be reinforced by Chinese forces. Russia has a large number of tanks, and China has up to two million soldiers, including reserves. Therefore substantial Russian-Chinese military collaboration would be a problem for the United States.
The weapons training and equipment sharing has also included having Chinese troops operate Russian weapons such as T-72 tanks, BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles and Igla-S air defenses. At other points throughout the cooperative relationship, Russian troops were provided with China’s People’s Liberation A’s Type 11 wheeled assault gun and Type 08 infantry fighting vehicle
The Chinese newspaper reports that Russian troops are learning how to operate Chinese military vehicles, a development that raises questions about the prospect of further cross-domain interoperability. Should Russian ground vehicles somehow be supported by China’s massive, technologically advanced and fast-growing Navy, any advance could be nearly impossible to stop. For instance, what if China decided to move a large Naval force into the Black Sea in support of Russian operations? Such a possibility might enable Russian aggressors to annex parts of Eastern Europe along the Black Sea, while U.S. Naval assets were occupied, deterred or kept at bay by large Chinese Naval forces. Russia does not have a large “blue-water” Navy able to challenge the U.S. for maritime warfare supremacy, but China presents an entirely different threat equation. China’s Navy, for example, is already larger than the U.S. Navy in terms of sheer numbers.
While the Chinese paper says the military-to-military cooperation “will allow both sides to better understand each other’s way of combat and form better tacit understandings in future joint military operations and antiterrorist missions.”
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.