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Military and political maneuvers at Kavkaz 2020

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Historical Background of the Military Exercise

Kavkaz 2020 is an annual hybrid military exercise that aims that demonstrate Russia’s operational capability. Increasingly, Russia invites countries from the broader Eurasian landmass, underlining its position at the heart of plurinational security frameworks in the region.

The exercise this year was held from the 21st to 26th September under the leadership of the Chief of the General staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov.

For decades, the exercise has been named after Russian strategic command centres, in rotation: Vostok (East), Zapad (West), Tsentr (Centre), and Kavkas (Caucasus). This year the exercise was closely watched, given the development of the COVID-19 Pandemic, a military standoff between China and India, political unrest in Belarus, and rising tension culminating in war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. 

Azerbaijan and Serbia withdrew their participation at the last moment, as did India.

Another reason this year’s exercise was watched so closely was the participation of newcomers from the Middle East: Syria, Iran, and Egypt as well as Turkey, a member of NATO. Equally striking was the participation of Turkmenistan[1]a country that keeps contact with the outside world to a minimum.

A Russian Institution

Kavkaz 2020 was the continuation and the evolution of previous large-scale drills that showcased Russia’s capacity to project military might throughout Eurasia. Russia’s biggest military exercise of its kind was "Vostok-2018"[2], involving approximately 300,000 service personnel and centered in Eastern Siberia.

China sent 3,200 troops, including armored vehicles and aircraft. Mongolia surprisingly also sent some units. The last exercise of similar size and scale dated back to 1981, during the Cold War, but Vostok-2018 was the most sophisticated project to date.

In 2019, the six-day Russian exercise was dubbed Tsentr 2019 and engaged seven military forces, including China, India, and Pakistan, but also Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan.[3] The basic scenario was a fight against terrorist forces

More than just Military Drills

The annual Russian exercise is more than a military drill. Its military scenarios are sophisticated, developing within a specific military-political narrative. The exercise unfolded in two phases:

First, military forces faced a mock enemy both militarily and politically, repelling air attacks, conducting reconnaissance, search and rescue operations, and defensive actions. Then there was a problem-solving phase, in which multinational command units cooperated to address challenges on land, air, and sea, involving both the Russian Black Sea Fleet and the Caspian flotilla.

This year Russian and Pakistan [4] units cooperated near Russia’s southern city of Astrakhan. This was Pakistan’s second successive engagement, in what is seen as an opportunity for Eurasian armies to showcase their technological hardware.

The Question of India

Russia and India have a strategic partnership[5] and New Delhi has dispatched substantial forces to the exercise for a number of years. The official reason for withdrawing from this year’s exercise was the Covid-19 pandemic, which presented a number of logistic challenges.

However, India’s standoff with China across the[6] Himalayan border is also likely to have affected the decision.

India has also expressed skepticism over the participation of Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the exercise, which have only been recognised by Russia and few other countries.

 

 

 

[1] John C. K. Daly (2020). Russia’s Kavkaz 2020: International Participation and Regional Security Implications. [Online] The Jamestown Foundation. Available at: https://jamestown.org/program/russias-kavkaz-2020-international-participation-and-regional-security-implications/. [Accessed 15 Sept. 2020].

[2] BBC Staff (2018). Russia launches biggest war games since Cold War. [Online] BBC. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45470460. [Accessed 4 Sept. 2020].

[3] Vusala Abbasova (2019). Russia Conducts Massive Military Drills With China, India & Pakistan. [Online] Caspian News. Available at: https://caspiannews.com/news-detail/russia-conducts-massive-military-drills-with-china-india-pakistan-2019-9-17-31/. [Accessed 4 Sept. 2020].

[4] Shahid Hussain (2020). Kavkaz 2020: Why Russia’s Latest Military Drills Are a Golden Opportunity for Pakistan. [Online] The Diplomat. Available at: https://thediplomat.com/2020/09/kavkaz-2020-why-russias-latest-military-drills-are-a-golden-opportunity-for-pakistan/. [Accessed 4 Sept. 2020].

[5] Dinakar Peri (2020). India decides to pull out of Kavkaz 2020 military exercise on Russia due to Chinese participation. [Online] The Hindu. Available at: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/india-decides-to-pull-out-of-kavkaz-2020-military-exercise-on-russia-due-to-chinese-participation/article32475212.ece. [Accessed 4 Sept. 2020].

[6] Huma Siddiqui (2020). India withdraws from Russia’s KavKaz 2020 Military drill involving China, Pakistan; Experts welcome the decision. [Online] Financial Express. Available at: https://www.financialexpress.com/defence/india-withdraws-from-russias-kavkaz-2020-military-drill-involving-china-pakistan-experts-welcome-the-decision/2069472/. [Accessed 4 Sept. 2020].

*Photo from TASS