At the gates of NATO, a meaningful military exercise between China and Belarus

Polish soldiers patrol the Polish-Belarusian border in Usnarz Gorny, Poland, August 30, 2023. KUBA STEZYCKI / REUTERS

China and Belarus have been conducting joint military exercises since Monday, July 8, near the Belarusian city of Brest, just 5 kilometers from the border with NATO member Poland. These maneuvers, called “Eagle Assault” and scheduled to last eleven days, began the day before the opening of the Atlantic Alliance summit, which is being held in Washington from July 9 to 11. They are a response to the “aggressive foreign policy of the West towards Belarus”close ally of Moscow and sanctioned for its involvement in the war in Ukraine, and to the “Ukrainian provocation”said on Friday the deputy chief of the General Staff of the Belarusian Armed Forces, Vladimir Kupriyanyuk.

According to the Chinese Defense Ministry, the forces of the two countries are to simulate together “hostage releases and counter-terrorism operations”The few official photos of troops attached to China’s Northern Theater Command disembarking from troop transport planes at a Belarusian base suggest that this is a relatively modest deployment in terms of numbers.

But, just a stone’s throw from a NATO border, these exercises have a strong symbolic significance and constitute a political challenge to the West. They respond to American desires to introduce the Chinese question and security in Asia-Pacific more and more explicitly into the priorities of the Alliance. And they bring China – which poses as a neutral actor in the war in Ukraine, even if it has never condemned the Russian invasion and provides Moscow with the machines and materials allowing its arms factories to remain – to the forefront only about fifty kilometers from the Ukrainian border.

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For Belarus, “It is a way of threatening the West, by showing that Lukashenko has the power to establish China’s presence and military influence in the heart of Europe and on NATO’s borders.”analyzes Valery Kavaleuski, executive director of the Agency for Euro-Atlantic Affairs, based in Warsaw. These exercises come a few days after the integration of Belarus into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which met on July 4 in Astana, Kazakhstan, and whose members (China, Russia, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Belarus) advocate for a global order “multipolar” against American unilateralism.

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