Recently, it has been observed that military and political tensions have increased at the global level. For this reason, states take care to keep their armies and navies ready through various drills. Moreover, the nature of the drills is now changing. In the past, while symbolic drills aiming to give strategic messages were generally carried out; today, technically, higher-level military action preparations are being tested.
Looking at the routine military drills of Russia, it can be stated that the drills are held in a strategic region of the country periodically in September every year. One of these is the Vostok Drills, which are held in every four years. As a matter of fact, it has been announced that Vostok-2022 will be held on between the dates of August 30 and September 5, 2022, in the Eastern Military Zone, which is close to China and Japan. It is stated that the drill is planned to include 13 military training areas, including Kuril Islands. It has been announced that China, India, Mongolia, Tajikistan, and Belarus will also participate in this drill. It should be noted that; China also participated in Vostok-2018. On August 17, 2022, the Chinese Ministry of Defense confirmed the information that the Chinese Army will take part in Vostok-2022.
The drill in question aims to give the message that Russia, which is fighting Ukraine in the West, is also ready for a war in the East. At the same time, the drill is very important due to the current developments in the Asia-Pacific region in the context of the Taiwan Crisis. It can be said that Russia aims to reveal its role in East Asia through this drill. Thus, the Kremlin reveals that it has the capacity to respond to various threats from the east of the country.
As it is known, the influence of the United States of America (USA) and its allies is prominent in the Asia-Pacific region and these states are implementing a containment strategy against China. Moreover, Japan’s desire to rapidly develop its military capacity indicates that the region may turn into a crisis and conflict zone. For this reason, the purpose of such drills for Moscow is to show its rivals the costs of an attack on Russia or, in other words, to remind the Kremlin’s deterrence.
On the other hand, Russia is aware that the Eastern Military Region is a geography where some problems can be experienced during the war in terms of population, infrastructure, and capacity. For example, it is easy to provide support to the Central Military District; however, due to the inadequacy of the military infrastructure, the lengthening of the supply line, and the presence of countries in the region that are politically closer to the West, Kremlin thinks that it should not be caught unprepared for the risks and threats that may arise on its eastern borders.
Considering the increasing influence of the West and especially the USA in the region, it can be stated that the Chinese Army’s participation in Vostok-2022 carries a strong message. Therefore, the two countries are determined to confirm their message that they act together against the West, through military cooperation.
For Russia, China’s participation in military drills is a development that will show that the diplomatic or military isolation applied to Moscow was not successful despite the tension with the West. Because although it is foreseen that the interests of the two states will coincide in the medium and long term, both Russia and China continue to act together against the USA and its allies.
For China, such drills are an important opportunity to benefit from the experience of the Russian Army in modern warfare conditions. Because the most important disadvantage of the Chinese Army is its lack of war experience. Because China has not faced a real war since its border war with Vietnam in 1979. Moreover, although China has invested heavily in modernizing its army since the 1990s, the competence level of the Chinese Army has not been tested yet. Therefore, the Beijing administration can analyze the content of the drills and draw some conclusions about its own military capacity. In addition, large-scale drills such as Vostok-2022 are extremely important for China due to the increasing tension in Taiwan.
Another advantage that the drill will provide China is that the Indian Army will also take part in Vostok-2022. Thus, the important power of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) will give the message that they act together in defense and security policies. This will mean that the influence of the SCO will increase. Of course, this will cause the SCO to be perceived as a stronger bloc.
At this point, it should be noted that; The Indian Army’s participation in Vostok-2022 is quite interesting. Because India is an actor that stands out with its closeness to the West against China. Even there are serious border disputes on the Beijing-New Delhi line. For example, in 2020, clashes took place on the de facto Control Line in the Galwan Valley of the Ladakh Region of India, and both sides massed troops on the border. Negotiations between the parties on the border issue have not been resolved yet. Moreover, it has been announced that the US and India will conduct a drill in September 2022, only 100 km away from the disputed border between China and India. Despite this, India’s participation with China in Vostok-2022 is an extremely remarkable development. Here, the Russian factor is effective. As a matter of fact, it is known that there are strong ties between Moscow and New Delhi.
On the other hand, despite all the problems with China, India tries not to attract Beijing’s reaction. For example, it opposes attributing a military meaning to QUAD, despite the wishes of the USA. In addition, New Delhi is standing side by side with China within the framework of the BRICS and the SCO. Therefore, India’s participation in Vostok-2022 carries a strong message. This is in line with India’s pursuit of strategic autonomy in its foreign policy. At the same time, New Delhi, thanks to these steps, gives the message that it can get closer with Russia and China if the West is subjected to sanctions pressure.
Beijing, on the other hand, is pleased with the development of cooperation on the New Delhi-Moscow line to prevent or at least maintain a certain level of rapprochement between India and the United States. Therefore, it can be argued that Russia is positioned as an actor that maintains the balance in China-India relations. This balance was once again confirmed with the move to invite both China and India to Vostok-2022. As a matter of fact, if one of the parties was invited; a scenario where the other is ignored may serve a process that will deepen the threat perception of both actors. Especially if India is not involved in the joint drill between Russia and China, it is possible that New Delhi would think that this drill was conducted against it. This, in turn, would lead India to improve relations with the United States. Moscow prevented this possibility by inviting New Delhi as well.
In short, the nature of the drills organized by the states has changed in recent years and both the military capacity of these drills has increased and the strategic nature of the messages given has come to the fore. Therefore, a process that can be called “drills diplomacy” has started in international politics. In this process, states give messages about alliance relations and show that they can fight if necessary. In this sense, the drills also contain important clues about the consequences that may arise if the problems in international relations are not resolved through negotiations.
As a result, on Vostok-2022, Russia is making a show of strength stating that it can fight if necessary and wage a war on two sides at the same time to protect its interests in East Asia. But this is not the only message that was given. Through the drill in question, Moscow highlights its alliance relations and reveals that it is not alone despite the sanctions imposed. Bringing China and India together is also a development that cannot be ignored.
 “Китай примет участие в российских учениях «Восток-2022»”, RBC RU, https://www.rbc.ru/politics/17/08/2022/62fcc1209a79473841d65a7d, (Date of Accession : 18.08.2022).