MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Viktor Litovkin)
In late February-early March, generals from six member-countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) will meet for a regular, third round of consultations in the training center and shooting grounds of the 34th motor rifle division in the Volga-Urals Military District near the Ural town of Chebarkul. They will discuss the remaining details of the battle exercise code-named Peaceful Mission - 2007, scheduled to take place from July 18 to 25.
As usual, Col.-Gen. Vladimir Moltenskoi, deputy commander-in-chief of the Army, will head the Russian delegation at these consultations; China will send deputy chief of the general staff Lt.-Gen. Zhang Qinsheng; Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan will be represented by their colleagues from defense ministries, and general and main headquarters.
Participants in the previous round of consultations, held in Shanghai on January 10-13, largely determined the exercise's format. RIA Novosti reported on November 3, 2006 that China rejected the proposal of the general staff of the Russian Armed Forces and the main staff of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to conduct joint SCO-CSTO maneuvers.
The formal reason is that the SCO and the CSTO do not have a legally binding agreement on military cooperation. There is a relevant protocol, but this is not one and the same thing. Moreover, Beijing believes that the SCO is a political and economic entity, and the fight against terrorism is not high on its list of priorities. It does not even have joint forces, as distinct from the CSTO, a military-political alliance. The CSTO has, for example, Central Asian rapid deployment collective force. The SCO and the CSTO should develop cooperation gradually, rather than start it with joint war games.
Russian military experts have a different explanation for the Chinese "no" to joint maneuvers. Beijing probably does not want to share the high prestige of the SCO, where it plays a major role, with the CSTO, of which it is not even a member for geographic reasons. Geopolitically, China may not be ready to upgrade its cooperation with the CSTO.
Be that as it may, the CSTO will still attend the SCO's summer maneuvers - both as an equal participant, since Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan are members of both alliances, and also as an observer - Armenia, and Belarus are not SCO members, but are invited to watch Peaceful Mission-2007 together with the CSTO leaders. India, Pakistan, and Iran, who enjoy the observer status in the SCO, will also attend the maneuvers, although it is not yet clear at what level.
But we know for certain who will watch the war games as guests - Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Hu Jintao (whom Putin personally invited to the event during their recent meeting in Vietnam), as well as their counterparts from Kazakhstan - Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kyrgyzstan - Kurmanbek Bakiyev, Tajikistan - Emomali Rakhmonov, and Uzbekistan - Islam Karimov. They will arrive to watch the event on its last day - July 25, when the live firing joint exercise is to take place.
This meeting of the SCO leaders may cancel a SCO summit, scheduled to take place in Bishkek in June. After the events in Kyrgyzstan, its leaders suggested delaying the summit till August. Now that the SCO leaders are going to meet in Chebarkul, they can discuss everything there.
The high level of the war games will considerably enhance their operational posture.
Under the plan, Russia and China, as the biggest participants with the strongest SCO armies, were supposed to send one 350-400-strong (motorized rifle or amphibious assault) battalion each; Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, a 100-strong company (Dushanbe, an assault company), and Kyrgyzstan a platoon of 30 officers and men. Now Beijing insists that Russia and China involve in the exercise at least 2,000 men each.
Chinese army leaders want their colleagues to see their reinforced motorized rifle battalion (450-500 men), an assault company (150 men), tank company on the offensive, artillery battery, fighters, and reliable air defense systems. All military hardware at the games will be of Chinese make and state-of-the-art -- Chengdu J-10 fighters, BMP-96 infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), and medium tanks. They will leave China for the first time. Russian Il-76MF aircraft will only be used to airdrop landing parties.
The Russian side is not sure that the proving grounds near Chebarkul are big enough for this hardware. Moreover, anti-terrorist struggle, which is the aim of the exercise, does not require the use of fighters and tanks. Chinese generals have weighty arguments to prove their point. They say that the size of the testing grounds is just right. Also, it is not appropriate to restrict the use of hardware at these war games, because at the previous Chinese-Russian exercise on the Yellow Sea coast, which was also anti-terrorist, Russia had big submarine chasers, assault ships, submarines, and even strategic aviation. The Chinese also believe it is not worth inviting the leaders of the six countries to watch a couple of reinforced battalions.
These questions do not have final answers yet. Beijing understands that Russia wants to downgrade the exercise or conduct joint CSTO-SCO war games in order to save its spending on Peaceful Mission. Under the relevant governmental agreements, the host country pays for ammunition, fuel and lubricants, wear and tear of combat hardware, and the food and upkeep of officers and men. These are huge sums. Guests only pay travel expenses. But there are events on which it is not worth stinting, especially, if the whole world will be watching.
Residential buildings and dormitories are under construction in the training center of the 34th motorized rifle division to accommodate Russia-accredited representatives of the military diplomatic corps, journalists from all over the world, and other SCO guests. Later, the families of officers and men under contract will move to these buildings. After the war games, weapons and hardware of the SCO's six armies and task forces will be displayed on the proving grounds. We will know more about this exhibition after Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov visits China in late March-early April. Together with his colleague Cao Gangchuan, he will remove all the uncertainties remaining after the third round of the February-March consultations.