October 19, 2020

Today, when the whole world is struggling with the coronavirus pandemic and its consequences (economy shrinking, rise in unemployment, pressure on medicine), Russia continues going about its favorite thing – a display of power. So, in September, the Russian Federation completed the most ambitious strategic military drills of this year “Caucasus-2020”.
The military exercises took place in southern Russia (in Astrakhan and Volgograd regions, Krasnodar and Stavropol Krai, Crimea) and in the Caucasus (in Dagestan, as well as in Abkhazia and South Ossetia – the separatist Georgian territories controlled by Moscow). The exercises involved over 80 thousand people, ground troops (including 250 tanks, 450 armored personnel carriers, 200 artillery systems and multiple rocket launchers), aviation and air defense units, units of the Black Sea Fleet (20 warships) and the Caspian Flotilla, as well as special troops (National Guard of the Russian Federation and rescuers). A classic example of demonstrative muscle-flexing – first of all, in the eyes of Georgia and Ukraine, and secondly, in the eyes of the West as a whole.
Apparently, the Kremlin has already forgotten that the USSR lost the Cold War not because of military defeats. The Soviet limited contingents more or less successfully participated in various “hotspots of tension” across the globe, however, the economy of the USSR failed because of the “arms race”. In addition, the deteriorating state of the economy has led to a significant technological gap in the military-industrial complex of the Red Empire. Oddly enough, the new Russian state did not even try to develop its economy, but focused solely on strengthening the army and navy, strengthening the police and creating a network of special services. Almost all the money that the Russian resource-based economy earns is directed by Moscow to the development of the power component of the state, while the standard of living of ordinary citizens remains very low.
Putin, leading the government of the Russian Federation in August 1999, publicly stated that his immediate goal was: the level of gross domestic product per capita in the Russian Federation equal to the level of Portugal (at that time it was the poorest country in the European Union). And now Putin’s Russia has been trying in vain to catch up to Portugal for 21 years! But, despite this, the Russian Federation is a country in which military exercises are such a never ending story.
For the sake of constant demonstration intimidating maneuvers, the Kremlin is ready to put up with anything – diplomatic squabbles (mainly with neighboring countries), huge expense from the state budget, clear examples of poor preparation and lack of coordination, frequent breakdowns of weapons and military equipment, as well as a large number of cases of injuries and mutilations of military personnel (since even well-planned events are always accompanied by some unpleasant incidents).
In 2020, Russia again spent its money, resources and time on a grand scale of military exercises in the annexed Crimea, Buryatia, Chukotka and the Mediterranean Sea. In most cases it was “muscle-flexing” – performances of arrogance. For example, during the “Ocean Shield 2020” Naval Exercises, the Russian fleet launched submarine cruise missiles off the coast of Alaska, and then the nuclear submarine Omsk demonstratively surfaced and drifted on the surface in international waters of the Pacific coast of the United States, not responding to requests from the US Coast Guard. Of course, Moscow hoped that these actions would disquiet Washington and force it to reckon with the position of a “strong Russia”.
During other exercises, Russian ships with marines sailed in the Baltic Sea near the Swedish island of Gotland, then the island saw the Internet disconnection (which gave Stockholm ground to send its own warships and aircraft to Gotland). According to the Kremlin’s logic, such a frank demonstration of the threat should lead either to the emergence or to an increase in the fear of the Scandinavians of the “power of Russian weapons.” As a result, Sweden decided to deploy an air-defense system on Gotland. In general, the Russian military carries out continuous “force testing” of the responses of NATO member states in the Baltic, Barents, Norwegian and North Seas. In addition, the constant flights over the Atlantic of Russian heavy bombers, maritime surveillance aircrafts and anti-submarine defense aircrafts also give a signal to Europe and the West in general that Moscow’s interests should be taken into account.
As a punishment for the violent seizure of the Crimean Peninsula and armed hostilities in eastern Ukraine, world leaders kicked Russia out of the G8, and in terms of its economic performances, the Russian Federation is maintaining at the G20 level. At the same time, the Kremlin does not want to seek respect in the international arena by developing the economy and innovative technologies, invariably giving preference to the policy of show of force.
So, on August 23 – September 5, the VI International Army Games 2020 were held in the Russian Federation. But, as already mentioned, as soon as some drills end, others immediately begin, and some of them are so ambitious that they consist of a whole series of military maneuvers lasting for months. Thus, the preparatory stage of the annual strategic command-staff exercises “Caucasus-2020” began in July this year with a chain of separate maneuvers of different types of troops and lasted for almost three months. On September 21-26 the active phase of these exercises took place.
Almost simultaneously – September 14-25 – Russia together with Belarus held the military drills Slavic Brotherhood-2020. Perhaps it will provoke laughter, but on October 12-16, new military exercises “Indestructible Brotherhood-2020” will take place and Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will join Russia and Belarus. Moreover, the Russian president has recently announced almost monthly joint military maneuvers with Belarus over the next year. Naturally, such an extraordinary general military activity between Moscow and Minsk raises many questions and great fears. Especially, against the background of the precarious position of the “last dictator of Europe” A. Lukashenko and V. Putin’s rhetoric about the need to unite the two countries into the Union State of Russia and Belarus.
To improve its position as an arms exporting country and to enhance its political prestige, Russia has made every effort that “Caucasus-2020” have an international character. Many countries were invited to participate in the maneuvers, but, in the end, only five of them answered “yes” – the Russian satellites Armenia and Belarus, as well as Myanmar, Pakistan and China.
Of course, the main trump card of the Kremlin is China’s participation. According to official reports, China’s participation in these maneuvers is aimed at further developing of the comprehensive partnership and strategic interaction. Although this formula is filled with pathos and official narrative, it is not that simple, given the current situation in the international arena. The project proposed to Beijing in 2008 by the administration of US President Barack Obama to create a US-China duumvirate (G2) has now been completely buried. Moreover, Trump’s White House has aggravated relations with China to the maximum. Some experts even started talking about the possibility of a military clash between the two superpowers. At the same time, speaking about security challenges for an allied Europe, the US State Department names China as a growing threat and Russia as the main military threat. Therefore, the Russian-Chinese “war ballet” (as the servicemen joke about maneuvers), of course, caused some irritation in Brussels and Washington.
In general, for the past six years Russia has been playing a difficult game with Europe, the United States and China. After being expelled from the Western community in 2014, Moscow began to actively flirt with Beijing, making it clear that these two countries are capable of creating a powerful military-political bloc that will become a new alternative to the unipolar world of the West led by Washington. At the same time, the economic potential of the Russian Federation and the PRC is absolutely not equal, as a result of which Russia is gradually turning into an energy, raw materials and agrarian appendage of China. And the Kremlin, of course, understands this situation and in fact, is afraid of the “bear hugs” of the Chinese brothers (especially, given the demographic situation in the Trans-Urals, Siberia, the Far East and China). As a result, Moscow is trying to avoid a tough confrontation with the West and not to merge too much in an alliance with the PRC. But, since Trump has exacerbated the competition with China too much, and Putin categorically refuses to make concessions to the West, the Russian Federation will not be able to successfully balance “between a rock and hard place” for a long time.
Undoubtedly, the nightmare of American officials and generals is the joint exercises of Russia, China and Iran, conducted on a regular basis and in conditions as close as possible to combat ones. However, Iran does not take full part in the “Caucasus- 2020” maneuvers – it is represented by warships in the Caspian Sea and by observers at the headquarters. At the stage of preparation for the exercises, Iran refused the initially accepted invitation to send its own military contingent to these exercises.
India and Azerbaijan behaved in a similar way, initially agreeing to participate fully in the “Caucasus-2020”. Because no one succeeds in being friends (and training at the training grounds) with everyone at once. Shiite Iran maintains excellent relations with Red China, but not so good relations with Sunni Pakistan. India has a protracted confrontation with Pakistan, and literally over the past year its border conflict in the Himalayas with China has sharply escalated.
Azerbaijan refused to participate in the maneuvers after Armenia, fully supported by Russia, carried out a series of artillery attacks against Azerbaijani territory in July this year, tried to take control of the surveillance vantage points of Tovuz region and managed to kill several senior Azerbaijani officers using a UAV. At the same time, the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation has sharply intensified the supply of arms and military equipment to Armenia. As a result of this policy of the Kremlin, the links Yerevan-Moscow and, in contrast, Baku-Ankara, only intensified, and the complex knot of contradictions between states, regions, nations and religious groups in the Caucasus has become even more aggravated.
So, the permanent military exercises of the Russian Federation indicate that it is going to continue its aggressive foreign policy in order to restore global influence throughout the world. Directly the “Caucasus-2020” maneuvers are direct forceful blackmail of Georgia, Ukraine and the entire Western community.
Perhaps the Russians are simply very fond of military exercises? But no one is immune to the fact that one day the Russians may discover that they can do nothing but conduct maneuvers, and are not capable of anything but fight. And then they will indeed go to war against the collective West. However, aren’t they already fighting against a number of states on the fronts of undeclared hybrid wars ?!

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