SIBERIA IS WITNESSING a warm wave of a different kind these days. Russia, China and Mongolia—three key states that together span the vast expanse of Eurasia—are engaged in a massive war game that involves more than 300,000 soldiers, thousands of military aircraft and a huge host of armoured combat vehicles. Such an exercise has not been seen since the end of the Cold War.
The Vostok—or ‘East’—exercise was kicked off on September 11th by China’s president Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok where the two leaders were attending an economic summit. For all practical purposes, the exercise signals a military alliance between the two countries. It also signals the end to an implicit goal of the Donald Trump presidency: the effort to check China’s rise by driving a wedge between the two Eurasian giants. The hostility towards Russia—a residue of the Cold War— on part of key American institutions ensured that this Trumpian quest remained a stillborn idea.
This will not be the first time that Russia and China have come to understand and actively cooperate with each other. In a sense, the Soviet-Chinese alliance that started in Stalin’s time and ended with a ‘mini war’ between the two countries on Zhenbao island in the Soviet Far East in the Summer of 1969, was a precursor to the current events. The political circumstances, however, were very different. At that time, the two countries were led by Marxist regimes that chose to sweep differences under the carpet. The relative economic and military strength of the two countries, too, were very different with the Soviet Union being in command.
Now virtually all the elements of the equation have been reversed. Russia is clearly the junior partner as China holds all the economic chips. There are no ideological illusions as well and the objective is clear: keeping the West, especially the US, at bay. But there is one constant: the geostrategic logic of two Eurasian powers in alliance is essential if they are to survive the political, economic and military advance of the West. Whatever be the Russian and Chinese calculations, their coming together is not good news for the survival of democracy in the region. It does not require too much thought to understand why. India, too, should worry: the possibility of Pakistan moving into this axis is now very real.