Amid shift toward Asia, Putin oversees maneuvers with China

USURISK | Today, Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin oversaw military exercises in which China is participating, before an economic forum shifts towards Asia, at a time when Moscow is looking towards the east, in full conflict with the West.

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Since the start of its offensive in Ukraine on February 24, which led to unprecedented Western sanctions, Russia has set its sights on Asia, in particular to find outlets, suppliers and markets to replace those it lost due to US and European actions.

For its part, China is going through a diplomatic crisis with Washington, especially since the visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in August.

In this context, Moscow has been conducting large-scale military exercises in the Far East of Russia since last Thursday, in which several allied countries, including Chinese soldiers, are participating.

In the rain and fog, Putin on Tuesday morning headed to the military training ground in Sergeevsky, one of the sites hosting these exercises, code-named Vostok 2022 (ORENT 2022). He had previously held a “closed-doors meeting” with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov.

According to Moscow, more than 50,000 soldiers and more than 5,000 pieces of weapons and military equipment, including 140 aircraft and 60 ships, were mobilized for Vostok-2022.

Units from several border countries or allies of Russia, such as Belarus, Syria, India, and especially China, are involved.

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On Wednesday, the military should give way to the economy, with the participation of Mr. Putin in the Eastern Economic Forum, which has been taking place since Monday in Vladivostok (southeast of Russia).

According to the Kremlin, the Chinese delegation will be the largest there with 114 people.

Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Li Zhanshu, China’s third-highest official, will attend the plenary session of the forum along with Putin. A bilateral meeting is also scheduled.

More gas to China

Another sign of the rapprochement between Moscow and Beijing, Russian gas giant Gazprom announced on Tuesday that China will now settle its contracts in rubles and yuan, thus replacing the dollar. Alexei Miller, head of Gazprom, said in a statement he hoped the measure would give “an additional impetus to the development of our economies”.

New long-term agreements for the purchase and sale of gas through the East Siberian Force’s gas pipeline were also signed on Tuesday.

“The relations of comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation between Russia and China are gradually developing,” the Kremlin said in a statement, praising China’s “balanced approach to the Ukrainian crisis” and Beijing’s “understanding” of the reasons for the Russian attack.

In addition, on Tuesday, Russia’s first bank, Sberbank, announced that it had begun granting yuan loans, which ensures “strong demand” in the country.

Aside from China, India and Burma, a tribute will also be made at the forum in Vladivostok, and Burmese junta chief Min Aung Hlaing is expected to be present.

In Moscow, Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramodwinai is scheduled to receive, on Tuesday, his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, who visited Burma and Cambodia in August.

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Finally, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, scheduled for September 15-16 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, will be another opportunity for Putin to focus on deepening ties in Asia.

According to diplomatic sources, a meeting may take place between Mr. Putin and the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, who has not left China since 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The two men met each other in early February in China, a few weeks before the Russian attack on Ukraine. Then Moscow and Beijing signed a joint statement calling for a “new era” in international relations, as well as an end to American hegemony, in which they denounced the role of the Western military alliances, NATO and AUKUS (Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States).

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