Milestone in the Transition to Multipolarity: Zapad/Interaction-2021 Military Exercises

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Today, when the world order has evolved into a multipolar system, there is a power shift from the west to the east. In particular, the influence of the United States of America (USA) on the global system has begun to erode and its leadership has become questionable. For this reason, Washington aims to exacerbate the conflict between Asian countries and to frazzle the actors in Asia, by pitting the powers in Asia against each other, without using its own military power. Therefore, it is possible to say that the USA, which tries to maintain its influence with the least cost by supporting its regional allies instead of long-term military interventions, is uncomfortable with the increasing cooperation in Asia.

Despite the above-mentioned situation, new power centers based in Asia have begun to emerge in the world order established in the post-Cold War period. The most important of these actors are China, Russia, and India. What Moscow and Beijing have in common is that they oppose the Western-centered system and see Washington as a rival. On the other hand, it can be said that India has close relations with the USA.

From the point of view of Russia and China, it can be said that Moscow has overcome the negative effects of the disintegration in 1990 and still has a significant military power. Beijing made a serious leap economically, especially in the post-1990 period, and became Washington’s most important rival. Therefore, as the competition between the USA and China intensified, Beijing began to attach importance to its military power.

Russia and China, which have made it clear that they intend to reshape the world through international actors such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), are taking steps to strengthen their cooperation. Military cooperation and joint military exercises constitute the most strategic dimension of these steps. In this context, the military exercise named Zapad/Interaction-2021, which started on August 9, 2021, continues.

As is known, the Russian Ministry of Defense has recently announced that a joint operational and strategic military exercise called Zapad/Interaction-2021 will be held by the Russian and Chinese armies on Chinese territory. Combat aircraft, artillery, and armored vehicles are planned to be used during the military exercise in China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. During the military exercise, which is carried out with the understanding of joint management, a command organization will be formed and control of situation, organization of intelligence, the extermination of the enemy, and information security will be coordinated. In the military exercise, with the aim of strengthening the relations, comprehensive partnerships, and strategic cooperation of the sides, it is aimed to fight against terrorism and jointly protect regional stability.[1]

It is clear that Russia and China, which have increased their military capacities, are doing this military exercise to demonstrate their military power against their rivals in the process of change in world politics. As a matter of fact, getting harsh of the USA’s discourse against Russia and China has led to a convergence policy in the Beijing-Moscow line.

On the other hand, it can be put forward that during this convergence policy, the two countries carried out military exercises to reassure each other. Because in international relations, relations between Russia and China are referred to as “forced union”. It is also stated that the USA while withdrawing from Afghanistan, wants to pit actors such as China and Russia against each other in the region. Although these determinations are correct in various aspects, it is obvious that the sides have to strengthen and deepen their bilateral relations against the United States, which is seen as an enemy.

When the regional dimension of Zapad/Interaction-2021 is examined, it can be argued that the sides want to send a positive message to their allies in the region at a time when the USA continues to withdraw from Afghanistan and the security of Asia becomes more fragile. Because the conflicts in Afghanistan have been increasing day by day, it is obvious that the USA leaves behind great security problems.

Through the military exercise in question, Moscow and Beijing are trying to prove that they are key actors in ensuring regional security and that they can cope with the “undesirable legacy” left by the United States. Therefore, the possible rapprochement in Russia-China relations after the military exercise may not signal a competition process in the region; but cooperation supported by military force.

While the sides caried out Zapad/Interaction-2021 to strengthen bilateral cooperation; it can be said that the military exercise took place after the meeting between Putin and Biden was a disappointment for the White House. Because Henry Kissinger, who was an adviser to USA President Richard Nixon in 1971, had led to the establishment of positive relations with Beijing and ensured that the Soviet Union was alone. However, the picture that emerged after the Biden-Putin summit reveals that the USA could not influence Russia against China.

Beijing’s most significant fear about the summit was that Moscow would come to an agreement with Washington and turn against Beijing. The attitude adopted by Russia today and the military exercise with China create the impression that the forced union between the two countries has evolved into a stronger alliance.

As a result, in the international system, which is undergoing a serious and significant change process at present, Russia and China are giving the message that they do not accept the world order established by the West and that they are ready for global competition militarily on the occasion of Zapad/Interaction-2021. Against this, the West is trying to hinder the rise of Asia by making the differences between Russia and China more evident. The Moscow and Beijing governments, on the other hand, follow a policy of expanding and deepening their relations by conducting the military exercise called Zapad/Interaction-2021. Therefore, as long as the US’s regression in international politics continues, close relations on the Moscow-Beijing line will continue. Because of this, it can be stated that the military exercise has an important symbolic value in the transition of the world to a multipolar order.

[1] “A Joint Russian-Chinese Strategic Exercise Zapad/Interaction-2021 will be Held in mid-August”, Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation,, (Access date: 08.08.2021).

Dr. Emrah KAYA
ANKASAM Dış Politika Uzmanı Dr. Emrah Kaya, Akdeniz Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezundur. Yüksek lisans derecesini 2014 yılında Süleyman Demirel Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nde hazırladığı “Latin Amerika'da Sol Liderlerin Yükselişi ve Uluslararası Politikaya Etkisi: Venezuela-Bolivya Örneği” başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Kaya, doktora derecesini de 2022 yılında aynı üniversitede hazırladığı "Terörle Mücadelede Müzakere Yöntemi: ETA-FARC-LTTE-PKK" başlıklı teziyle elde etmiştir. İyi derecede İngilizce bilen Kaya'nın başlıca çalışma alanları; Orta Asya, Latin Amerika, terörizm ve barış süreçleridir.