Russia-China war games battle extremists, separatists
In a first, the games will range across Russian as well as Chinese territory near Khabarovsk in the far east.
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Experts say Moscow and Beijing are concerned about deepening instability in former Soviet Central Asia, where weak local governments face a growing threat from drug smugglers and Islamist extremists emanating from neighboring Afghanistan.Skip to next paragraph
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"Unfortunately, our American colleagues and NATO are losing the war in Afghanistan to the Taliban, and there is a danger of spreading extremism into the wider region of Central Asia," says Lt. Gen. Genady Yevstafiyev, senior vice president of the PIR Center, an independent Moscow-based security think tank.
"These [Russia-China] military exercises are a defensive operation, which are especially important for China this year. But they also serve as a warning to extremists, and thus may be helpful to the US and NATO in their efforts" against the Taliban in Afghanistan, he adds.
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev said Tuesday that he may approve a new Russian military base in southern Kyrgyzstan to train regional forces to fight the rising tide of narcotics smuggling and terrorism.
In recent weeks, local security forces in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan have reported gun battles with Taliban-linked insurgents who they say are infiltrating the countries from Afghanistan.
"The situation in this region is a really serious threat to both Russia and China, as well as countries of central Asia," says Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the official Institute of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Moscow. "It's no coincidence that there's a decision to create an antiterrorist center in Kyrgyzstan. It's motivated by real danger."
Though Russian-Chinese cooperation is on the rise, some experts say neither country is interested in moving toward a full strategic anti-Western alliance.
"China is our potential enemy, and these exercises are mostly playing into China's hands," says Alexander Khramchikhin, an expert with the independent Institute of Political and Military Analysis in Moscow.
"Of course Russia wants to play the China card in its relations with the US, and China is playing the Russian card against America," he says. "But the fact remains that, for both of them, relations with Washington remain far more important than anything going on between themselves."