Defense Minister speaks of Russian-Chinese-Indian military exercises

Fighting international terrorism is certainly one of the important areas where the interests of Russia, China and India coincide. Russia in the Caucasus, India in Kashmir, and China in Xingjiang suffer similarly from Islamic fundamentalists and extremists based in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In an interview with a Russian state television channel on August 29, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov called on the Indian government to organize large-scale Russian-Chinese-Indian military exercises similar to those recently completed on the Shandong Peninsula in China. The Russian and Chinese armed forces acted in cooperation there.

This is the first time that such an appeal has been made by a top-ranking Russian politician. Ivanov said, “We think that new exercises of such kind will take place. I do not rule out that other member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) besides Russia and China will take part in them, as well as observers in the SCO, primarily India.” Former Security Council Secretary Andrei Kokoshin expressed the same thought about a possibility of military exercises in the Asia-Pacific region less than a week ago.

Indian Military Attache in Moscow General Ashukumar Singh told us in a telephone conversation that “in principle organization of such exercises is quite possible.” Along with this, Singh immediately emphasized that “the final decisions on such issues are made on a political level.” So far, according to the diplomat, India did not hold any preliminary negotiations about this either with Russia or with China.

The general also notes that India and Russia already have a certain experience in organization of joint military exercises. Thus, the latest bilateral exercises of the navies of the two countries were organized in 2003. Joint exercises of the airborne forces of the two countries were planned for mid-October 2005. Incidentally, units of the airborne forces of Russia and China took part in the most active phases of the exercises on the Shandong Peninsula.

Russian defense analysts headed by Commander of the Airborne Forces Colonel General Alexander Kolmakov discussed all details of the upcoming exercises in Delhi in May. They prepared the necessary documents too. Specialists did the relevant work on the site. General Singh told our reporter that the main goal of the exercises would be preparation for interaction of the countries in case of the need to parry an attack of terrorists. A Russian airborne battalion about 800 servicemen strong will combat the conventional enemy (89 servicemen of the Pskov airborne division participated in the exercises in China) in cooperation with the Indian special forces unit having the same strength. Airplanes and helicopters of the army aviation will participate in the exercises too.

Meanwhile, Alexei Bogaturov, Deputy Director of the Institute of International Security Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences, says that “calls of Sergei Ivanov on India mean that Russia is going to develop the eastern component of its policy very seriously.” According to Bogaturov, “The political elite of Moscow has already grown tired because Russia always invites the West and the US to take into account and in real life it turns out that Russia is taken into account only when it is really feared. On the one hand, Russia does not want to be feared and, on the other hand, if it is not strong it will not be taken into account.” Hence there are all hints at creation of powerful military blocks. In reality, says Bogaturov, “Now there are no grounds to say that Moscow’s policy is aimed at being friends with China and India against Washington. On their part, China and India that have been developing relations with the US lately hardly think about any “triangle” or alliance with Russia. They simply wish to be taken into account. Thus, all these exercises represent primarily a kind of political demonstration.”

Military Forecasting Center Director Anatoly Tsyganok says that the wish of Moscow and Beijing to create a kind of military political bloc means “further increase of the steps aimed at overcoming of the format of unipolar world proposed by the Americans to everyone.” That is why, according to Tsyganok, the attempt to involve India into the process of formation of the naval group (so far, the matter is only about intentions) looks quite logical.”

Tsyganok also says that by his statement Sergei Ivanov has tried “to kill two birds with one stone.” The analyst adds that “about a month ago Indian military leadership once again spoke harshly against sale of Russian weapons to the rivals in the Indian Ocean including China. They said that should this happen Delhi would seek other large exporters. That is why the proposal of Ivanov to India to organize joint military exercises and to establish a military political group in the Asia-Pacific region in the future is also an attempt to solve the problem of jealous attitude of India to supplies of Russian armament to China. The same group will mean the same weapons.”


So, it was Duma member and former Security Council Secretary Andrei Kokoshin who probed the public opinion about the new step in military cooperation of the three main players in the Central Asian economic space before the Defense Minister. Kokoshin was the first to speak about formation of “triangle of Russia-India-China.”

In January 2005, Navy Commander Admiral of the Fleet Vladimir Kuroedov voiced the idea of organization of the joint Russian-Chinese-Indian naval exercises Indra 2005. There was no follow-up information about this action. Most likely, preparation for the exercises was already completed, joint plans were determined and these exercises might be organized after making of the relevant political decision. India and China with their dependence on oil import are interested in such exercises more than Russia. India is interested in defense of waterways most of all because it receives up to 80% of oil through them. Russia has an interest of its own because it can receive a new powerful tool of geopolitical influence.

The economic aspect, first of all, its oil component, starts adding a growing firmness to the appearing construction of the triangle of Russia-China-India. From the former opposition with the great northern and southern neighbors that sometimes has turned into bloody border incidents China transits to the partnership policy. Its rapidly growing economy requires stability. According to oil consumption China has reached the second place in the world after the US and suffers from deficit of hydrocarbons. India, with its 7.5% economic growth, consumes only a third as much petroleum as China, but is increasing imports as well. Indian-Chinese trade turnover doubles annually, and for India China has already become the second-largest partner according to the volume of export-import operations.

Healthy pragmatism of Chinese politicians starts outweighing their former ambitions. Giants of the Asian world start giving up mutual territorial claims and transit to “harmonization of relations on the border.” India and China started preparation of an agreement on 3,500 kilometers of the mutual border in the Himalayas.

Fighting international terrorism is certainly one of the important areas where the interests of Russia, China and India coincide. Russia in the Caucasus, India in Kashmir, and China in Xingjiang suffer similarly from Islamic fundamentalists and extremists, whose main bases are Pakistan and Afghanistan. This is one of the reasons why China is giving up support for Pakistan and turning towards India. In any case, oil remains a very powerful argument in favor of mutual understanding.