War Games – 2022

“Would you like to play a game?” – This was asked of Matthew Broderick’s character by the WOPR (War Operation Plan Response) computer in the 1983 movie “War Games.” If you remember that film, the NORAD computer decided to play a game called “Global Thermonuclear War” and concluded that it was a “strange game,” and the only winning solution was not to play.

As tensions with the United States continue to escalate, last Thursday, September 1st, two of the world’s largest nuclear weapons holders held joint war games in eastern Russia.

Russia and its allies launched their Vostok (the Russian word for “east”) 2022 war games on that date. The “games” are still underway, scheduled to last through September 7th. More than 50,000 troops are participating, including Chinese and Indian (another nuclear power) forces. The military exercises are intended to flaunt the growing cooperation between the two nations in the face of the US. However, they also seem to be meant to show us that they have enough forces to continue their war in Ukraine and host exercises with their allies.

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov addresses the international gathering of troops. Screenshot from YouTube and France 24

Activities are being held at seven ranges in the Primorsky Region of Russia as well as the sea of Japan. The Russian Defence Ministry and Tass report that approximately 50,000 troops will be involved and 140 aircraft and 60 warships. The major participating nations, in addition to the host, are China, India, Syria, Mongolia, Nicaragua, and Laos.

During the opening ceremonies, Yevkurov said, “Today, soldiers and officers of 10 states are standing in a single formation, and a total of 13 countries are taking part in the exercise. Tens of thousands of servicemen and thousands of units of equipment are performing combat training missions according to a single plan at nine training grounds in real-time.” 

The nations participating in Vostok 2022. Screenshot from YouTube via France 24

The Deputy Minister explained the tactical exercises that they would help foster their commitment to mutual understanding and cooperation and strengthen combat unity among the participating states. This is all according to the Russian News Agency, TASS. Sounds like an axis of something to me.

Remember Your History

The growing friendship between Russia and China reminds me of the Anti-Comintern Pact signed by Germany and Japan in 1936. According to sources at the World War II National Museum, “A part of the Pact kept secret entailed that neither country would help the Soviets in any way if Stalin attacked the other.” Historian Ian Kershaw characterized it in the following way, “the pact was more important for its symbolism than for its actual provisions: the two most militaristic, expansionist powers in the world had found their way to each other. Though the pact was ostensibly defensive, it had hardly enhanced the prospects for peace on either side of the globe.” 

Here’s a fun historical fact, fascist dictator Benito Mussolini had used the term “axis” in reference to the joining of like philosophies of the time one month before the Anti-Comintern Pact was signed. Then, the Pact of Steel, also known as the Pact of Friendship and Alliance between Germany and Italy, formalized a political and military agreement between the two like-minded nations.

The signing of the Pact of Steel in Berlin, 1939. If you squint a bit, the man to the immediate right of Hitler looks a bit like Putin. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes History Repeats Itself

As outlined by The New Yorker, way back in early February, before he launched his “special military operation” into Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with China’s Xi Jinping to discuss their version of a “new world order.” Of course, they discussed their ambitions concerning Ukraine and Taiwan.

The autocrats released a joint statement with verbiage that should raise more than a few eyebrows. The statement says, “Friendship between the two States has no limits” and “There are no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation.” This agreement is more than just a few soundbites; it is a five-thousand-word document.

None other than Robert Daly, who is the director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at The Wilson Center (try fitting that title on a business card), warns, “This is a pledge to stand shoulder to shoulder against America and the West, ideologically as well as militarily,” Looking forward, he comments, “This statement might be looked back on as the beginning of Cold War Two.” 

I’m reminded of how the Russians recently announced they would no longer be part of the International Space Station after 2024. So are they getting out of the outer space business? Not at all; they are pairing up with the Chinese and will be working with them on their Tiangong Space Station.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, this piece isn’t so much about the Russian war games themselves as it is about the idea of an axis of nations that aren’t huge fans of the US training together. You may wonder, “What is India doing mixing in with that crowd?” Fair question; they have sent contingents to military exercises with Russia before. They are really sitting on the fence on this one.

Et Tu, India?

Through Voice of America, Manoj Joshi, a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, tells us, “New Delhi is emphasizing that it will adhere to the independent position that it has taken in the wake of the Ukraine crisis and continue to remain neutral between the US and Russia.” Sort of like Switzerland with 1.38 billion people. India has not condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, nor have they imposed any sanctions against Moscow. Quite the opposite, they have been taking advantage of discount prices in Russian oil, and their oil imports from that nation have risen significantly this year. India’s Foreign Minister justifies this by saying, “I have a country with a per capita income of $2,000. These aren’t people who can afford higher energy prices.”

I should point out that India is currently buying their weapons from Israel, the United States, and Russia (among other countries). They are trying to keep all of their suppliers happy, which is working now.

And What of the Games Themselves?

Boring. Lots of small groups marched on poorly maintained parade grounds and tanks getting stuck in the mud. Seriously, you don’t want to see that.

Really poorly maintained parade grounds. Screenshot from YouTube via France 24.

If you want to see Russian tanks stuck in the mud, watch some videos of their progress in Ukraine.