By Sun Qi
The parade for Russia's Navy Day celebration kicked off in waters near St. Petersburg's Kronstadt on July 28. Russia invited Chinese, Indian and other foreign navies to participate and held days-long military activities with them. However, the large-scale multinational military exercise code-named Agile Spirit 2019, which claimed to aim to "safeguard the stability and security in the Black Sea region", kicked off in Georgia, Russia’s neighbor, one day before the Navy Day parade. More than 3,000 military personnel from 12 NATO members including the US and the UK, and from Georgia and Ukraine, two participants in NATO's Partnership for Peace(PfP) programme, joined the exercise.
Although both events were routine arrangements, the coincidence between the Russian Navy Day parade and NATO's "Agile Spirit 2019" exercises was no less than a "head-on confrontation" in the eyes of Li Shuyin, a researcher at the War Studies College of the Academy of Military Sciences of the Chinese PLA.
"For Russia, the Navy Day celebration has more political than military significance." In Li's opinion, the marine parade and other events could invigorate Russia's military morale, showcase its naval strength to NATO states, deepen the mutual trust and promote cooperation with foreign navies invited to join the parade. On the other hand, the "Agile Spirit 2019" joint exercise offered an opportunity the US wouldn't miss to put pressure on Russia.
"Agile Spirit" is an annual routine exercise held by the US, Georgia and other countries, but its time and location this year was extremely sensitive. For all these years, Georgia has been the forefront of the US-Russia game. The exercise this year was held at the Vaziani training base less than 100km from the Russian border right during the Russian Navy Day parade, and such a blatant challenge at Russia's doorstep might easily lead to armed conflicts. Yet the US still dispatched armored troops for live-fire drills during the exercise, not bothering to hide its intention of provocation.
In fact, this was the second large-scale military exercise held by the US at the Black Sea within a month, following the "Sea Breeze-2019" joint exercise held by the US and its allies in early July. In face of Washington's close-range, regular provocations in the form of joint military exercises, Moscow would in no way back down.
On the one hand, Russia deployed more troops to the border, assigned the Black Sea Fleet to keep a close eye on NATO's military vessels participating in the exercise, and closely watched the air situation in the exercise region.
On the other hand, Russia will carry out exercises in response to America's military provocations. Russian media reported that the country will hold a large-scale air strike and defense exercise in the Caucasus, when its Aerospace Forces, Black Sea Fleet and other armed forces will be dispatched in response to the US-led joint exercises.
Moreover, the US-Russia confrontation is also reflected in their relationship with Iran. The Iranian naval commander was invited to participate in the marine parade for the Russian Navy Day, and the two countries also agreed to hold joint military exercises at the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf.
"These movements indicate a closer military cooperation between Russia and Iran." According to TianWenlin, a researcher at the Institute of Middle East Studies of China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), Russia showcasing its friendly relation with Iran in a special way during the Navy Day celebration and getting involved in the Persian Gulf situation in the name of "joint military exercise" will handicap Washington's Middle East strategy. For Iran, Russia's support will give it more confidence to resist and cope with the maximum pressure from Washington.
Washington's efforts to gang up with its allies and enhance its presence around Russia are bound to meet Moscow's firm "fight back". If the US continues with the bullying policy and intensifies the sanctions against Russia and Iran, the "head-on confrontation" between the two powers concerning joint military exercise and the Middle East situation will play on.