BEIJING: Indian and Chinese soldiers will take part in a week-long multi-country drill in Russia starting later this month, with troops from the two countries practising military manoeuvres together in the backdrop of the ongoing border tension in eastern Ladakh and the war in Ukraine.
Led by host Russia, the drill will include troops from India, Belarus, Mongolia, Tajikistan and other countries besides China, the Chinese defence ministry said in a brief statement on Wednesday. The drill, which will be held between August 30 and September 5 at various military facilities in Russia, is likely to be closely tracked globally given the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.
While there was no official comment from the ministry of external affairs in New Delhi, people familiar with the matter said both countries have sent troops for such exercises in the past in keeping with multilateral commitments to cooperate on defence and security issues.
Indian Army officials, too, refused an official comment on the upcoming drills, but said there have been instances of India and China taking part in multi-nation drills, including one held in Russia last year, before, too.
The Chinese defence ministry said the exercise is “unrelated” to the current international and regional conditions. The Russian government confirmed the “Vostok” (East) drills last month without sharing details.
The Chinese defence ministry confirmed the exercise and shared some more details on Wednesday. “In accordance with the annual plan for cooperation between the armed forces of the two countries and the bilateral agreements, the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) will soon delegate and send part of its forces to Russia for participation in the Vostok-2022 exercise,” the Chinese statement said.
“China’s participation aims at enhancing strategic coordination among the participating nations and strengthening the ability to respond to security threats,” the ministry statement said, according to official media.
Reacting to the development, former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retd) said: “I don’t attach too much significance to India and China taking part in these multi-nation drills against the backdrop of the Ladakh standoff. What will be more significant is restarting the India-China bilateral Hand-in-Hand exercise, which does not appear likely at the moment.”
In a statement in July, the Russian government said troops from the country’s eastern military district will take part in the drills and that it will be held across 13 military facilities.
“The drills will bring together the airborne forces, long-range and military transport aircraft and also military contingents of other countries,” the Russian statement, quoted by official news agency Tass, said.
Russia’s eastern military district includes part of the remote Siberian region and its headquarters is in Khabarovsk, located some 30km from the Chinese border.
Tens of thousands of troops from India and China are deployed on either side of LAC in eastern Ladakh as the two countries struggle to resolve the worst chill in ties in decades.
The only military exercise held between India and China, the counterterrorism “Hand-in-Hand” drill, remains suspended.
The eighth and last round was held in December, 2019, in Umroi, Meghalaya.
(With HTC inputs from New Delhi)