Moscow Russia and China will hold their first ever joint military exercises next week as the once wary neighbors demonstrate their willingness to cooperate in the face of a U.S. military presence in Central Asia that troubles them both.
The two countries also will do a little business on the side as Russia shops its hardware, including nuclear-capable strategic bombers, to its military-industrial complex's best customer, Russian and Chinese defense analysts said.
The simulated land, sea and air operations are scheduled for Thursday in the Russian Far East before moving on to the Chinese coastal province of Shandong. The two countries have held exercises before in conjunction with other Central Asian republics, but these are the first bilateral exercises, defense analysts said.
"The Chinese want to use Russia in a complicated game with the U.S. and Taiwan," said Alexander Golts, a military analyst and journalist in Moscow. "China is expanding its military presence in the region. For Russia, this is mostly about selling weapons."
Billed Peace Mission 2005, the exercise, involving about 10,000 troops, ostensibly involves Russia and China coming to the aid of a third state where law and order has broken down because of terrorist violence.
"The joint exercises will help strengthen the capability of the two armed forces in jointly striking international terrorism, extremism and separatism," China's official New China News Agency said.
That last word, separatism, has unsettled some in Taiwan, who fear China would try to draw on Russia's support in the event of a confrontation with the island.
According to Russian reports, the Defense Ministry here rejected Chinese proposals to hold the exercises closer to Taiwan.
The two countries have invited observers from the Central Asian republics of Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, which together with Russia and China form the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
The week will begin with a news conference and a planning exercise in Vladivostok before Russian airborne troops and marines seize a beachhead on China's Shandong Peninsula in advance of an inland offensive coordinated with the Chinese military, according to Russian Army deputy Commander Col. Gen. Vladimir Moltenskoi, in an interview with Russian television.
Later in the exercise, the Russians will deploy strategic, long-range bombers, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, which will fire cruise missiles at targets on the surface of the Yellow Sea.
Moltenskoi said the strategic aircraft, as part of the simulation, would "prevent the vessels of any other countries from approaching the area of the peacekeeping operation."
Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, deputy director for operations for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon recently that the U.S. Pacific Command planned to monitor the exercises.