Russia has concluded the Kavkaz 2020 joint military drills. The exercises were conducted with neighbouring countries in Russia’s Southern Military District and in the Black and Caspian Seas. Kavkaz — Russian for “Caucasus” — 2020 is the last in a cycle of four rotating regional exercises, preceded by ZAPAD 2017, VOSTOK 2018, and TSENTR 2019. These most recent drills came just a month after Moscow held its Army-2020 arms fair, the largest annual exposition and demonstration of Russian military hardware.
These exercises are a means of gauging battle-readiness in each of Russia’s four military districts: Western, Eastern, Central, and Southern, respectively. The joint military exercises, which started on September 21, concluded on September 26 involving about 80,000 personnel, including officers of the Russian Emergencies Ministry and the Russian Guard, as well as troops from Iran, Armenia, Belarus, China, Myanmar and Pakistan. Additionally, representatives from the armed forces of Iran, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Sri Lanka participated as observers of the military drills. India had consented to participate in the joint military exercises but withdrew at the last moment, quoting COVID-19.
About 12,900 military personnel from the participating countries took part in activities covered by the 2011 Vienna Document of the Negotiations on Confidence-and Security-Building Measures. Most of the action on the ground will be taking place in the Southern Military District.
Up to 250 tanks, 450 infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers and 200 artillery and missile systems made the joint military exercise realistic. Ships of the Black Sea Fleet and the Caspian flotilla joined the action, too, in the company of the Iranian Navy vessels. About 60 Ilyushin Il-76 military transport planes were moved to operational airfields as part of the military drills. The flights were carried out from the planes’ home airfields in the Tver, Pskov, Orenburg, Ulyanovsk and Rostov regions. The distance of the flights was up to 2,000 km, according to a statement by the Russian Defence Ministry. Fighter jets of Russia’s Southern Military District were on combat duty within the framework of the Kavkaz-2020 drills.
Russian Ministry of Defence informed that crews of Su-27 and Su-30SM fighter jets of the Southern Military District carried out combat air defence duty at operative airfields in the Republic of Crimea, the Krasnodar, Stavropol and Rostov Regions within the strategic command post drills Kavkaz-2020.
Russia’s Armed Forces paid particular attention to combating cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles during the exercise, the ministry stated. “The Kavkaz-2020 drills paid particular focus on combating cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as on fire and electronic warfare activities against entire enemy formations, on training airborne troops’ vertical envelopment capability and ways to rapidly shift between military activities,” the statement read. The decision was made to include the anti-missile and anti-drone exercises based on experience gained during various armed conflicts including the ongoing conflict in Syria.
Another focus of the drills was on using weapons and military equipment at different times of the day and conducting deep-penetration raids.
In a statement earlier this month, the Chinese Defence Ministry had stated that China’s participation “aims to further develop the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation in a new era, deepen the pragmatic cooperation in military training between the two sides, and boost the capacities of military forces from different countries to jointly deal with security threats and safeguard regional peace and stability.” Over the past decade, Russia and China have expanded military cooperation as both governments’ relations with the United States soured.
The developments sparked concerns in the West. In June, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned that China’s rise along with its increasing cooperation with Russia posed a new challenge for the alliance. Commenting on the Kavkaz 2020 exercises Alexander Mikhalkov, director of the Moscow-based think tank Bureau of Military-Political Analysis, told the pro-Kremlin RT network that while the drills were mostly for planning purposes, they “have assumed a special geopolitical significance in light of the growing NATO military activity on the southern borders of our country.”
Russia and China have held annual joint naval exercises regularly since 2012, in flashpoint regions such as the South China and Baltic seas.
In the fall of 2018, China had dispatched 3,200 troops and 900 tanks to eastern Siberia for Vostok-2018, Russia’s biggest military exercise since 1981, featuring over 300,000 troops and 36,000 tanks.
Beyond joint military exercises, Russia has also begun supplying China with some of its most advanced weaponry. In 2014, Russia agreed to sell six battalions of its S-400 air defense system to China for $3 billion. The following year, China purchased 24 Su-35 fighter jets from Russia for $2 billion.
In October 2019, President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia was helping China develop its own missile warning system, a closely-guarded technology that currently only the US and Russia possess. Last month, Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation announced that the two countries had begun working together to develop a new generation non-nuclear submarine.
Strict coronavirus pandemic requirements were observed throughout the training exercises, which were otherwise conducted in realist conditions and will provide numerous lessons to the participants.
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