In the latest display of their deepening ties, Beijing and Moscow held military exercises this week in western China, with a focus on security in Central Asia and Afghanistan.
Finding Perspective: As I reported here, the drills come amid big changes taking place in the security environment across Eurasia that are increasingly on the radar of both China and Russia.
More than 10,000 troops from the Chinese and Russian militaries participated in the Zapad/ Interaction 2021 exercises in a training that marked the fourth consecutive exercises between Beijing and Moscow and the first joint drills held in China.
China and Russia have been growing closer over the years, but especially since 2014, when Russia found itself hit by Western sanctions. The exercises are part of this larger trend and they highlighted growing interoperability between both countries’ militaries.
The focus on Central Asia and how the situation in Afghanistan could destabilize the wider region also points to another area of mutual concern for both countries.
While the Chinese and Russian analysts I spoke with were quick to note that neither Beijing or Moscow is intent on forging a formal military alliance, the way both countries respond to security challenges in the region will define how their relationship matures in the coming years.
Why It Matters: The T-aliban’s dramatic sweep to power this week is just the beginning of what’s to come.
Refugee flows into Cen-tral Asia and beyond are likely to be a major issue moving forward and Uz-bekistan has shown how it will defend its borders, det-aining fleeing Afghan soldiers and shooting down an Afghan Air Force plane it says illegally entered its air space.
Russia’s ambassador to Afghanistan has already m-et with the Taliban since th-ey took Kabul, and China had stepped up its engagement with the militants as they advanced across the country. What comes next is still very uncertain, but Afghanistan will continue to be a major test for both China and Russia.