Russian forces help China in mock conflict
|By Bill Gertz, The
April 30, 2001
Russian military forces intervened in a mock nuclear conflict between China and the United States over Taiwan during strategic exercises that included Russian preparations to use nuclear weapons on U.S. forces in Asia, The Washington Times has learned.
The strategic exercises took place in late February and included practice bombing runs with Russian Tu-22 Backfire bombers that flew close to Japanese airspace, according to defense officials familiar with a National Security Agency analysis of the Russian war games.
"The Russians were practicing nuclear intervention against U.S. troops on Taiwan," said an intelligence official familiar with classified reports on the exercise.
In Moscow yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin met Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan as part of preparations for the signing of a treaty of friendship and cooperation between the two countries in July.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the treaty "will play a great role in enriching the relations between our countries in all spheres." The pact also "will further strategic stability and security around the world," he said. Disclosure of the Russia-China strategic military cooperation comes as the Bush administration is hardening its views on China.
President Bush last week shifted away from past ambiguity on whether the United States would defend Taiwan in a conflict. The president said the United States would do "whatever it takes" to defend the island. U.S. officials said Beijing interpreted that statement as a willingness by the United States to use both conventional and nuclear forces in a conflict over Taiwan.
A major strategy review now being conducted for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld will recommend a major strategic shift from Europe to Asia, specifically to deal with the emerging threat of China, according to Pentagon officials familiar with an early draft.
According to the NSA assessment of the February Russian war games, the Russians practiced fighting in Europe and Asia during one of the largest exercises in the past decade, the officials said. The intelligence report was based on communications among Russian forces during the maneuvers Feb. 12 to 16. "The Asia scenario began with a Chinese military attack on Taiwan that was followed by the use of U.S. ground troops" on the island, said one official.
Next, China escalated the conflict by firing tactical nuclear missiles on the U.S. troops in Taiwan, prompting U.S. nuclear strikes on Chinese forces. Russian nuclear forces then threatened to use nuclear missile strikes on U.S. forces in the region, including strikes on troops in South Korea and Japan.
Japan´s military sent jet interceptors to confront two Russian Tu-22 bombers and two Su-27 fighter-bombers that Tokyo said had violated Japanese airspace. Russia denied there were any violations of Japanese airspace.
A U.S. intelligence official familiar with the NSA analysis said the Tu-22s, which are equipped with long-range nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, were part of the Russian intervention on behalf of China during the simulated conflict over Taiwan. A second intelligence official, however, said he was unaware of the "Taiwan angle."
The European exercise involved a conflict between Russian and NATO forces a scenario practiced in past exercises.
The Asian exercise was the first time Russian forces had practiced fighting the United States in the Pacific region. It also shows the growing strategic partnership between China and Russia.
Russia and China have been moving closer together in what many analysts see as an anti-U.S. alliance. Moscow feels threatened by NATO´s inclusion two years ago of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, and China has begun turning against what it calls "U.S. hegemonism" since the 1999 U.S. air war against Yugoslavia. The Balkan conflict also angered Beijing because of the accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, which China´s government believes was an intentional U.S. attack.
Intelligence officials said that during the strategic exercises Russia test-fired three strategic nuclear missiles, from land-based mobile launchers and from a submarine. Senior Russian officials, including Mr. Putin and Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, activated the Russian nuclear command and control suitcase known as a "cheget," officials said.
Marshal Sergeyev, the Russian defense minister, announced Feb. 19 that "all the designated targets were hit by the strategic missiles which were launched, as a training exercise, during the recent live firings," the official Itar-Tass news agency reported.
Two days later, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov met in Moscow with Zhang Wannian, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission. The two discussed "military-technical cooperation," according to official Russian press reports. The two officials said military sales from Russia to China would increase 25 percent annually.
Rick Fisher, a specialist on the Chinese military with the Jamestown Foundation, said the Russian exercise on behalf of China is "completely realistic" based on the growth of Russian-Chinese military, technical and diplomatic cooperation over the past decade.
"If the report is true, it would appear to track with Russian reports last year that Russia will sell China new regional strategic weapons like the Oscar-class nuclear cruise missile submarine, Akula-class nuclear attack sub and the Tu-22M Backfire bomber," Mr. Fisher said. "All of this coming together would mean no more peace dividend and the beginning of the next Cold War."
Bruce Blair, a strategic nuclear specialist with the Center for Defense Information, said the Russian-Chinese military exercise, if true, would be a sharp departure from past Russian nuclear exercises.
"I´m not aware of any change in Russian-Chinese relations that would indicate any movement toward preparation for cooperation in nuclear operations, or in political commitment that would justify that intervention," Mr. Blair said in an interview.
"It does illustrate Russia´s reliance on nuclear weapons and the growing nuclear tension between the United States and China," Mr. Blair said. "And in a way it is consistent with this notion that we are going to focus more on China in our nuclear planning."
Mr. Blair said he believes the Pentagon strategy review will result in increasing the number of options and targeting of U.S. nuclear weapons on China, which currently is very limited.
U.S. nuclear targeting of Russia probably will decrease by 50 percent from current planning involving strategic land-based, sea-based and aerial nuclear weapons.
Russia recently revised its nuclear doctrine to lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons in conflicts.
The change was made to compensate for the poor state of Russian conventional forces, which have declined sharply since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.