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Joint Command in Combined Arms Drill [Updated]
Russia and China put a few cards on the table.
Updated: 2021-11-19. Added a very cheesy Culture section.
Updated 2022-09-02: A recent article from Responsible Statecraft shows and extended collaboration in military exercises involving Russia and China, with India and some others joining the 2022 Vostok exercise. Added to sources.
From Andrei Martyanov I downloaded a short 3 minute "PR" video of the welcoming of the Russian Commander by his Chinese counterpart at the joint headquarters for the Zapad/Interaction-2021 military drill in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region of the Russian and Chinese armies.
I double quote the PR because, yes this is Public Relations and to a degree propaganda, but one can learn things from "PR" videos, and more importantly, this is a very serious occasion. It is the first time that the Chinese military, since the birth of the PRC, have ever invited any foreign army into their territory. For this exercise a joint command will be established. That is a significant step beyond just hosting a foreign military force. I have learned that Russian troops will be given use of Chinese military vehicles, armoured personnel carriers and potentially tanks. It is posited that the reverse equivalent is likely in forth coming combined command drills hosted in Russia. There is only one way to look at this, a military alliance, irregardless of political rhetoric.
Thus, this "PR" video (see Sources) produced by CCTV+, a media arm of the CCP, is in itself a very serious effort. What is the target audience? The West, primarily, but it will be viewed in Russia too (else why would Martyanov be highlighting it?). Thus, it has multiple objectives and the "propaganda" needs be quite limited. Plenty of bravado, yes, but misrepresentation, I think not. When you are building a military alliance, what qualities between your military leaders would you like to promote most of all? I posit respect and trust.
Most people, wherever they are from, will do their utmost to provide the best services to their guests. This is both about projecting image and "values" but also a hark back to the gift economies of old. For this military drill event, it is all of that on steroids. Not only shall the host be thoughtful and gracious, but the guests shall be on their best behaviour, as we shall see. A report will be returned to their superiors by both of the visiting commanders. In a military that prides itself on honor and professionalism, these reports will contain complaints about the other party if warranted, in the "internal" version of the report. Chinese or Russian soldier, you know this to be true. And, you will have been clearly warned. Mistakes in exercises can be fixed, a brawl in the recreational spaces is intolerable.
As an appendix below, I have notes on what I saw within time stamps of the video. Here is a synthesis of that analysis.
The exercises are occurring in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region which is for the Hui people, one of the 56 identified nationalities of China. Its capital is Yinchuan, which can be seen on the map below (you may need to enlarge it) beneath the R in 'INNER MONGOLIA'. It was conquered by the Mongols during their reign in 11th to 13th centuries (as was much more of China and Russia), and this provides a little historical reference. The region is largely desert, some of which can be seen in the background of the video imagery, particularly in the final shot.
[Map of Eastern Asia from The Asia Pacific Journal, article by Moo-hyun Roh.]
The videoed event is a formal welcome between the commanders and their retinue, and a media event in itself. The two commanders are of equivalent rank, Deputy Commander of the PLA's Western Theater Command (W.T.C), and Deputy Commander of Russia's Eastern Military District (E.M.D). The choice of these two commanders and their respective troops is interesting. Russia's Central Military District is closer to the PLA's W.T.C, but has only a small border with the very large countries of Kazakhstan and Mongolia largely separating them. However, Russia's E.M.D is home to the two nations' longest border.
The PLA’s Theatre Commands
[From Wikipedia: By Joowwww、Li Chao、解放的高加索、Bxxiaolin - ，translated it into English., CC BY-SA 4.0 ]
The Russian Military’s Military Districts can be seen here. Note the map to the right.
As with much of Russia and China's choices of action I see a careful balance being played here. Russia's Central M.D may be a little busy at the moment due to changes in Afghanistan and increased engagement in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, but it is the PLA's W.T.C with which they may need to cooperate in central Asia during any joint "regional stability" or "counter-terrorism" actions. So, its a balance; use Russia's E.M.D where a large border is shared, and work with PLA's W.T.C which is currently not involved in central Asia.
The Video and The Event
The video begins by showing the landing of a fighter jet which will later be one of the five behind the welcome ceremony, and the landing of a passenger aircraft which I expect the Russian commander is aboard. You may scoff and claim "video editing". I have laid out my arguments; this is a very serious affair, and as you will see in the video, has all of the hallmarks of dedicated preparation. Which way are the flags flying? They have chosen the site for the welcome and aligned it with the prevailing wind; meticulous attention to detail. I propose that all five of the combat aircraft were filmed landing, and the Chinese Air Force being asked which one to use; that serious. This is pure speculation. I am trying to hint at the seriousness, both of the military and their preparations and actions, but also that of the state-controlled media contingent.
The formal welcome ensues, in which we can see the conductor of the military band waving his baton. Screw the audio engineers. I want to hear what the military band is playing. This is certainly not the "local" Ningxia Hui region band, but the best in all of the PLA's W.T.C. with a list of pieces carefully coordinated to the timing of events, including I am sure the Chinese and Russian national anthems, and if they exist, the relevant "anthems" for the participating commands. There would be no "pop songs" or the idiotic military themed background music which we must suffer in the video.
During the formal welcome and exchange of gifts we can see the Russian commander's aide-de-camp give a small bow to the Chinese commander; respect and discipline, and a literal nod to cultural sensitivities.
After a few shots from three angles of the welcome ceremony and speeches, including the flags and fighter jets, we have the interview with the hosting commander, Liu Xiaouwu. He diligently delivers the political message to the camera. He is confident and calmly forceful.
We then have an inter-cut, showing the arrival of vehicles and logistics personnel, in this case Russian, at work. Below, more of the "political" message is delivered in typeface, describing the exercises.
We then see a very interesting cut to two soldiers walking past a building. It jump cuts to a close up from their right and we can see the Russia flags and "MP" on their arms. Recall that this video is meant to document the arrival of the "Vanguard" of the visiting Russian forces. Their Military Police are amongst them, a hint towards a third aspect wishing to be displayed. One may wish for respect and trust between the leadership, but disciple is expected everywhere.
As this scene comes near to its end we hear the voice of the Russian Commander, Mikhail Nosulev, with the MPs still in shot, enter the audio. He is continuing the political message about international terrorism etc.. I am disappointed that his face is not shown more. Like his counterpart, his voice is calm and determined.
We now move to a whole sequence of cuts which detail the efforts of the Chinese logistics crews. It ticks the obvious boxes of bedding, washing and cooking, and medical support. Here we see Chinese soldiers, and Chinese equipment to welcome their guests. There are two key moments. A blue sign with Russian at the top, and Chinese beneath. Then, among the recreational activities are table tennis, chess boards set up for play, electronic gaming equipment and two footballs.
We then cut to a wide shot of the entire base, likely taken from a drone, before the end "logo" screen.
What means all this “PR”?
My take-away is that this event is being taken very seriously by both sides. Yes, no prizes for that conclusion. Meticulous preparation and detailed thought as to how to welcome their guests by the Chinese. The "electronic gaming" equipment is not an accident. The Russian and Chinese rate almost as highly as the South Korean's on that front, on which I have a little more to elaborate.
I see two very interesting things happening. The obvious is coordination in military effectiveness, and most importantly the earning of trust between the allies at the troop/platoon level. The objective is not to work in mixed platoons, but for platoons under combined command to effectively execute their tasks in unison. The far more interesting objective is the cultural exchange in the recreational facilities: table tennis, chess, gaming and football. A very well chosen collection of activities, with the leading two tilting a little to one side and then the other, with the latter two being much more hardly contested.
I conclude that much can be learned from a "PR" video.
Forming a military alliance between Russia and China is an herculean task. It is not just the obvious spoken and written language barrier. One may see a cultural gulf, and certainly a culinary one, but both countries believe in strong executive government, and one would imagine that this is even more so in their militaries.
An exchange in the earning of trust and respect between these two militaries will create a very formidable combined military force. This latest, about to occur, combined military exercise is the fourth, and they have already signaled that this is to be an ongoing activity.
I would be very surprised if Russian and China's military planners are not already drawing up contingency plans for combined operations by special forces or others to act in central Asia against any militant insurgencies in the central Asia republics. Internal is internal, but regional is combined. This will, of course, be subject to the willingness of any of these republics to host Chinese troops. Should this be required, as I hope it will not, and should a combined operation be executed, the Chinese troops will be on their “best behaviour” in barracks, and seriously professional in action. If you don’t think the Russian and Chinese military leadership are planning this, you’ve got rocks in your head. They will already be producing a combined equivalent of “M” rations for both forces.
Back to the "careful strategy" commentary. The central Asian republics are largely controlled; simple incentive. I have mentioned how manageable a relationship with Iran is if you just do some research, listen to them and then execute diplomatic relations, which Russia has been doing for decades. Afghanistan is the "uncontrolled" (lets be honest and call it destabilized) and thus much effort is being devoted there. But look at the approach to India and Pakistan. Russia is furthering its long standing good relations with India, but it is China that is courting Pakistan. This alleviates the India-Pakistan rivalry. This simple mechanic provides cover for both of the Indian and Pakistani political leadership and flies in the face of the failing hegemon's "do what we say, not what we do" dictates and bullying.
If China-Russia can pull this off, control central and southwestern Asia, along with their possession of the north and east (minus the Koreas), combined with China's economic dominance and Russia military technologies, it completely explains their reluctance to tolerate the USA's hegemonic dictates. See my recent article of the “Sherman Debacle”.
On Video Gaming
This is probably an article in itself, but now will do. Despite the repeated mantras in western media about the dangers of "violent video games" to our youth, militaries world-wide have been seeking skilled video game players, particularly in team based competitions. Two really good games spring to mind, CounterStrike and League Of Legends. In these, team "battles" occur in which each team is required to understand the general strategy of the team's approach to the "battle" and then to use appropriate tactics to counter the opposition. In both games there are a limited set of "maps", all of which any skilled gamer is expected to have memorized, and each of which hold various advantageous positions due to stronger materials or better offensive of defensive capabilities. Each "battle" takes somewhere between 5 to 15 minutes, and in this high speed process each player is required to run what the USA Air Force calls an OODA loop in very tight repetition. OODA == Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. This constant, rapid re-evaluation of the "battle space" is what good commanders do when selecting tactics within an established strategy.
Militaries know this. Being a good "gamer" does not make one a good soldier, but it shows aptitude for tactical awareness, and this is a particularly valuable asset in the officer class. These skills are developed in these very fast encounters when the players are young and possess extremely fast physical reactions. The differences in outcomes in encounters during these “battles” happen in the very small fractions of a second. Meanwhile, they are required to be aware of the greater battle and how they are to adapt to the combined team approach watching the "radar" of the map and the changing availability of resources and positions.
More On Russians In China, Andrei Martyanov's Blog
PLA holds large drills amid military threats, Liu Xuanzun (GlobalTimes)
Russian troops to operate modern PLA equipment for 1st time in joint exercise, ‘shows mutual trust’, Liu Xuanzun (GlobalTimes)
Russian Troops Arrive in Northwest China's Ningxia for Joint Military Drill, CCTV+
Annex: Timed notes on the Video
00:00 to 06: Fighter jet lands (Chinese), and military/passenger transport (unknown), and we get the date 2021-07-31, a week and half before exercises are due to start.
00:07 to 25: military band, marching soldier, fighter jets and flying flags. Look at the flag directions. They change by about 90 degrees, either that's a big wind shift or the video is inter-cut across a wide time period. Secondly, the troops standing are just a tad short of 10 000. This looks like the arrival and welcoming of the leadership and their contingent.
00:25 to 36: warm welcome and exchange of gifts, and the Russian commanders aide-de-camp (or whoever) does a small bow to the Chinese commander (as well he should, as we'll find out). The military band is playing in the background. If only we had that playing instead of this incessantly stupid "western style" military rubbish. It does have a little "Russian Military" feel to it. Perhaps that is why it was chosen. I'd rather hear the Chinese military band.
00:36 to 01:14: we find out that the Chinese Commander is the deputy commander of PLA Western Theater. Thus, a very high ranking Chinese military leader. He delivers the political message to the camera about cooperation, regional stability and fighting terrorism. I am certain that the welcome ceremony was a little delayed here and there for the camera crews to do their job, but Commanders know about this stuff; its par for the course. So I expect that this is actually the "public" welcome ceremony. The dual flags are essential (protocol) and the Chinese Fighter Jets is a nice touch.
01:14 to 55: trucks entering the base, logistics at work, two Russian Military Police walk past a key building, and we learn of the Russian Commander, the deputy Commander of the Eastern Military District of Russia. The Commander delivers the political message.
01:55 to 02:28: small aerial view of the camp, and we get a look at Chinese logistics and the accommodation for their guests. There is a blue sign with the information in Russian (at the top) and Chinese, a nice gesture. For recreation we see table tennis, chess boards set up, electronic gaming equipment, and some footballs. Yes, yes, its all propaganda, but I do not doubt that these items are there and will be available for use, but it is *thoughtful* propaganda.
02:28 to ..: wide view of the camp. it is quite small, but another area is visible to the left of field. In the background we can see the terrain in which they will be working, an undulating terrace. We see unsealed roads.
Vostok military exercises indicate that Russia is far from isolated, Sarang Shidore, Responsible Statecraft, 2022-09-01
The Beatles - Back In The U.S.S.R. (2018 Mix / Lyric Video), from the (White Album) released in 1968, The Beatles youtube channel, uploaded 2018-11-06