Other than the vast scale of the exercise, the fact that Chinese forces have a role seems to have dominated reporting on Vostok-18. But, at least two critical analytical points seem to have been missed. First, the location of the exercise no doubt reflects the Kremlin’s desire to cool down tensions in the European theater. At a time of emerging fissures within the Trans-Atlantic Community, such an enormous exercise close to NATO countries would be excessively provocative and counter to Russia’s interests. That the Kremlin understands this is no doubt a good thing for European security. The other important point that has not registered in most Western analyses is the confluence of the September Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok and the Vostok-18 exercise. It’s easy to forget that six months ago, it looked more than a little likely that a massive war would engulf Northeast Asia. The exercise was most likely put together as a show of force meant to favorably impact diplomacy and the related “correlation of forces” in and around the Korean Peninsula.
Undoubtedly, it is also true that Russia-China strategic cooperation has reached a new stage.
But: “As good as this sounds, it is fair to say that not all Russians are so optimistic, and some have even suggested that Vostok-18 has a double message that is also meant t o warn Beijing. I have recently described in this forum at least one prolific Russian strategist who considers China as the preeminent threat to Russian national security.”
This is the second deep-think article I came across this week on Vostok-18. The other, from Stephen Blank for MSN, was more ominous: “Russia is rehearsing for a global war, and giving early warning to the West.”
Given that Putin is an opportunist who plays his opponents rather than his country’s weak hand, I’d guess that his grand plan, such as it is, is to keep Russia’s options open.