Alexander Gabuev explores whether or not the United States has played a role in driving together Russia and China.
Early last week, Russia concluded Vostok-2018, its largest military exercise since the fall of the Soviet Union. It wasn’t just their size, however, that made the recent war games so groundbreaking. For the first time in history, 3,200 Chinese troops trained alongside some 300,000 Russians in eastern Siberia. Previously, the Kremlin had issued invitations to take part in such exercises only to formal military allies such as Belarus. Yet when asked at a press conference if the exercise made him worry about a possible Russian-Chinese military alliance, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis was dismissive. “I see little in the long term that aligns Russia and China,” he said.
Mattis’ view echoes the Western conventional wisdom, which holds that mistrust between Russia and China is too deep to form meaningful strategic bonds. Yet this view is dangerously wrong. The deepening of military ties between these two former rivals is real, and a stronger strategic partnership between Beijing and Moscow could, given time, upend a half century of U.S. military planning and strategy.