Sapad 2021, Joint Efforts 2021 and the Fourth Taiwan crisis?
A new Taiwan crisis like 1995/ 1996 with the presidential election in Taiwan and Lee Denghui’s visit to the USA seems to be brewing Despite a phone call between Xi and Biden, the US now seems to test how China would react to the name change from “Taiwanese Economic and Cultural Representative Office” to „Taiwan Representative Office“. The Global Times commentator sees this as a violation of the China principle, the entry into force of the anti-secession law and wants an economic blockade and PLA domination of Taiwanese airspace. It is also feared that Tsai Yingwen will be invited to the Summit of Democracies in Washington. The Global Time issues a clear warning:
“Teach the US, Taiwan island a real lesson if they call for it: Global Times editorial
By Global Times Published: Sep 12, 2021 10:26 PM Updated: Sep 12, 2021 10:58 PM
According to British newspaper the Financial Times on Saturday, Washington is seriously considering a request from the island of Taiwan to change the name of its mission in the US capital from „Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office“ to „Taiwan Representative Office.“ It is also reported that White House Asia adviser Kurt Campbell has backed the request. Washington is assessing the risks such a change would bring. The report has caused strong repercussions in the island, but neither the US government nor the Taiwan authorities have commented on the report.
Reports also said senior „national security“ officials from the US and the island of Taiwan held face-to-face talks on Friday in Annapolis, Maryland, which is less than an hour’s drive from Washington DC. The two pieces of news were revealed immediately following reports about a phone conversation between the Chinese and the US heads of state.
It must be pointed out that if the US and the island of Taiwan do make the name change, it will mean Washington’s basic abandonment of its „one-China policy,“ which will constitute a significant change surrounding the Taiwan question. Lithuania previously said it would set up an office in the Taiwan island with the name „Taiwan Representative Office“ and the island also announced its plan to set up an office in Lithuania using the same name. This has met strong resistance from the Chinese mainland. If the US does the same, without doubt it will have a widespread demonstration effect on its allies and bring about a wave of name changes of the island’s mission in these countries.
The US knows well it’s a significant and serious matter. It is leaking certain information to test the Chinese mainland’s response. But, is there really anything to test? The Chinese mainland has no other choice but take the challenge and prepare for a showdown with the US if it pushes the matter to the tipping point of a showdown. Should the US rename the island’s mission in Washington as „Taiwan Representative Office,“ the Chinese mainland should respond to it in a punitive way no lighter than it did with Lithuania. At that time, it’s anticipated that China will recall its ambassador to the US and it is likely the „lowest diplomatic reaction.“ Otherwise, China cannot set up its prestige on the one-China principle it has always been upholding.
Due to US incitement and instigation, some Western countries are itching to play the „Taiwan card.“ Punishing only small countries while ignoring the major powers won’t work. Safeguarding the bottom line of the one-China principle means we have to deter the US attempt to cross the line. Otherwise, we will have to face the possibility of more „Taiwan Representative Offices“ emerging in a batch of capital cities.
Diplomatic measures alone are obviously not enough. If the US and the Taiwan island change the names, they are suspected of touching the red line of China’s Anti-Secession Law, and the Chinese mainland will have to take severe economic and military measures to combat the arrogance of the US and the island of Taiwan. At that time, the mainland should impose severe economic sanctions on the island and even carry out an economic blockade on the island, depending on the circumstances.
Militarily, Chinese mainland’s fighter jets should fly over the island of Taiwan and place the island’s airspace into the patrol area of the PLA. This is a step that the mainland must take sooner or later. The name change provides the Chinese mainland with sufficient reason to strengthen our sovereign claim over the island of Taiwan. It is anticipated that the Taiwan army will not dare to stop the PLA fighter jets from flying over the island. If the Taiwan side dares open fire, the Chinese mainland will not hesitate to give „Taiwan independence“ forces a decisive and destructive blow.
More importantly, if the Chinese mainland turns a blind eye to the US and the Taiwan island this time, they will definitely go further in the next step. According to reports, Joseph Wu, leader of the external affairs of the Taiwan island, participated in the talks between senior security officials from the US and the island in Annapolis on Friday. Next time, they may publicly hold the meeting even in the US State Department in Washington DC. As the US will hold the „Summit for Democracy“ by the end of this year, if we do not contain the insolence of the US and the Taiwan island, Washington might even really invite Tsai Ing-wen to participate in the summit. It will be much worse in nature than former Taiwan regional leader Lee Teng-hui’s visit to the US as an „alumnus“ in 1995.
Will peace come if the Chinese mainland puts up with all this and swallows its anger for the sake of peace? If the mainland doesn’t strike back decisively, US warships will dock at the island of Taiwan, its fighter aircraft will land on the island and its troops may be stationed in the island again. At that time, where will be China’s prestige as a great power? How can the country maintain its system of defending its interests on the international stage?
The fact is that a contest of will has been formed regarding the Taiwan question Since China has declared that the Taiwan question is a matter of our core interests, we must take resolute actions to protect the bottom line of this exact national interest at any cost. If the Democratic Progress Party authority really dares to take the risk of triggering a war to push for a name change, and the US, which just suffered a debacle in Afghanistan, is not afraid of being involved in a new war, then what is there for the mainland to be scared of?
It seems that sooner or later, the Taiwan Straits will be plunged into a storm that will change the situation there drastically. And judging from the current actions of the US and the island of Taiwan, we can be sure that even if they will have to take this step back, they will step forth again soon. Thus, right now we need to be fully prepared to blow them out of the water in the Taiwan Straits.
The US has been engaging in phrase mongering, hoping that the „competition“ between China and the US will not evolve into a „conflict.“ We have to tell them clearly with our actions that „competition“ with the Chinese mainland on the Taiwan question is bound to turn into a serious conflict, and there is absolutely no room for maneuver.
Lee Tenghui died in 2020 and the reactions were ambivalent. While many Taiwanese and Westerners saw him as “the father of democracy”, the CPC perceived him as “the Godfather of separatism” and even the KMT expelled Lee for his “2 state”theory and readjusted it under Ma Yingjiu.
Former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui, considered the „father of Taiwan’s democracy“ died in 2020 at the age of 97.He served as president of Taiwan, from 1988 to 2000.Lee was credited with ending autocratic rule in favour of pluralism and democracy – but was also a controversial figure.His attempts to delink the island from China sparked tensions with Beijing, which sees Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunited one day.During his time in office he led constitutional changes towards a more democratic political layout, including direct presidential elections.
Current President Tsai Ing-wen said „he laid the foundation of a democracy built on pride and our own identity“.
Lee thrived on defying China’s drive to absorb the island and hoped for Taiwan to be „a country of democracy, freedom, human rights and dignity.“He became president in 1988 after the death of predecessor, Chiang Ching-kuo.In 1996 – the first direct presidential election in Taiwan – he was democratically elected for a second term with a landslide victory. Ahead of the vote, mainland China conducted months of intimidating war games and missiles tests around the water to influence the election against him.
The Third Taiwan Strait Crisis, also called the 1995–1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis or the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis, was the effect of a series of missile tests conducted by the PR China in the waters surrounding Taiwan, including the Taiwan Strait from 21 July 1995 to 23 March 1996. The first set of missiles fired in mid-to-late 1995 were allegedly intended to send a strong signal to the Republic of China goverment under Lee Tenghui, who had been seen as moving its foreign policy away from te One-China policy. The second set of missiles were fired in early 1996, allegedly intending to intimidate the Taiwanese electorate in the run-up to the1996 presidential election..
The crisis began when Presiden tLee Tenghui accepted an invitation from his alma mater, Cornell University to deliver a speech on „Taiwan’s Democratization Experience“. Seeking to diplomatically isolate the Republic of China, the PRC opposed such visits by ROC (Taiwanese) leaders. A year earlier, in 1994, when President Lee’s plane had stopped in Honolulu to refuel after a trip to South America, the U.S. government under President Bill Clinton refused Lee’s request for a visa. Lee had been confined to the military airfield where he landed, forcing him to spend a night on his plane. A U.S. State Department official called the situation „embarrassing“ and Lee complained that he was being treated as a second-class leader.
After Lee had decided to visit Cornell, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher assured PRC Foreign Minister Qian Qichen that a visa for Lee would be „inconsistent with [the U.S.’s] unofficial relationship [with Taiwan].“ However, the humiliation from Lee’s last visit caught the attention of many pro-Taiwan figures in the U.S. and this time, the US Congress acted on Lee’s behalf. In May 1995, a concurrent resolution asking the State Department to allow Lee to visit the U.S. passed the House 396 to 0 with 38 not voting, and the Senate 97 to 1 with 2 not voting. The State Department relented on 22 May 1995. Lee spent June 9–10, 1995, in the U.S. at a Cornell alumni reunion as the PRC state press branded him a „traitor“ attempting to „split China“.
The Chinese goverment was furious over the U.S.’s policy reversal. On 7 July 1995, the Xinhua News Agencyannounced missile tests would be conducted by the PLA and argued that this would endanger the peace and safety of the region. At the same time, the PRC mobilized forces in Fujian. In the later part of July and early August numerous commentaries were published by Xinhua and the People´s Daily condemning Lee and his cross-strait policies. Another set of missile firings, accompanied by live ammunition exercises, occurred from August 15 to 25, 1995. Naval exercises in August were followed by highly publicized amphibious assault exercises in November.
The U.S. government responded by staging the biggest display of American military might in Asia since the Vietnam War.President Clinton ordered additional ships into the region in March 1996. Twoaircraft carrier battle groups, Carrier Group Five centered onUSS Nimitz, and Carrier Group Seven centered on USS Independence, were present in the region as well as the amphibious assault ship USS Belleau Wood. The Nimitz and her battle group and the Belleau Wood sailed through the Taiwan Strait, while the Independence did not. The crisis forced the Chinese leadership in 1996 to acknowledge its inability to stop U.S. forces from coming to Taiwan’s assistance.
Beijing intended to send a message to the Taiwanese electorate that voting for Lee Teng-hui in the1996 presidential election on March 23 meant war. A third set of PLA tests from March 8 to March 15 (just before the election), sent missiles within 46 to 65 km (25 to 35 nmi) (just inside the ROC’s territorial) off the ports of Keelung and Kaohsiung. Over 70 percent of commercial shipping passed through the targeted ports, which were disrupted by the proximity of the tests. Flights to Japan and trans-Pacific flights were prolonged by ten minutes because airplanes needed to detour away from the flight path. Ships traveling between Kaohsiung and Hongkong had to take a two-hour detour.
On 8 March 1996, alsoa presidential election year in the U.S., the U.S. government under President Clinton announced that it was deploying theUSS Independence carrier battle group (CVBG), already stationed in the western Pacific, t ointernational waterd near Taiwan. On the following day, the PRC announced live-fire exercises to be conducted near Penghu from March 12–20. On March 11, the U.S. dispatchedCarrier Group Seven, centered on USS Nimitz, which steamed at high speed from thePersian Gulf. Tensions rose further on March 15 when Beijing announced a simulated amphibious assault planned for March 18–25.
Sending two carrier battle groups showed not only a symbolic gesture towards the ROC, but a readiness to fight on the part of the U.S. The ROC government andDemocratic Progressive Party welcomed America’s support, but staunch unificationist presidential candidate Lin Yangkang and the PRC decried „foreign intervention.“
Aware of U.S. Navy carrier battle groups‘ credible threat to the PLA Navy, the PRC decided to accelerate its military buildup. Soon the People’s Republic ordered Sovreenny class destroyers from Russia, a Cold War-era class designed to counter U.S. Navy carrier battle groups, allegedly in mid-December 1996 during the visit to Moscow by Chinese Premier Li Peng. The PRC subsequently ordered modern attack submarines (Kilo class) and warplanes (76 Su30 MKK and 24 Su-30 MK2) to counter the U.S. Navy’s carrier groups.
The PRC’s attempts at intimidation were counterproductive. Arousing more anger than fear, it boosted Lee by 5% in the polls, earning him a majority as opposed to a mere plurality. The military tests and exercises also strengthened the argument for further US arm salesto the ROC and led to the strengthening of military ties between the USA and Japan , increasing the role Japan would play in defending Taiwan.
Since a civil war in the 1940s, China sees Taiwan as a breakaway province that will eventually be part of the country again. But many Taiwanese see the island as a de-facto independent nation, although surveys show most people do not want formal independence, preferring to maintain the status quo.
Taiwan’s current President Tsai Ing-wen is considered Lee’s protege and appears to follow in his footsteps – distancing Taiwan from the mainland while garnering US backing, with tensions reaching a new high in recent years.
If the situation were to escalate, some fear the US could potentially join Taiwan against China in a war that neither Washington, nor Beijing really wants to fight.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said it had noticed the news of Lee´s death in 2020 and that „Taiwan independence is a dead end“. Mainland state media Global Times meanwhile called him the „Godfather of Taiwan secessionism“.
„Lee’s death is definitely not sad news to most people in the Chinese mainland,“ an article on the newspaper’s website said.
While his predecessor Chiang Ching-kuo paved the way for democracy, Lee Teng-hui made it a reality.
While he was president, he got rid of laws that hindered democratic development, overhauled the legislature, carried out free legislative elections, and allowed Taiwanese people to vote for their president for the first time.
This has had a lasting impact on Taiwan, helping it become a vibrant democracy, which was not possible in Japanese colonial times – or in the early decades of nationalist rule. But he has also been criticised for unnecessarily antagonising China, and raising tensions between Taiwan and the mainland.
Lee’s attempts to get rid of Taiwan’s historical links with mainland China – and regard itself as a separate country – prompted Beijing to test fire missiles near Taiwan, which led to Washington sending the biggest armada of warships to Asia since the Vietnam War, in the potentially explosive 1995-96 Taiwan Strait Crisis.
Both Beijing and Taipei have since built up their military, turning the region into one of the biggest flashpoints in the world.
His legacy of bringing about democracy in Taiwan, much quicker than it might have come, but also sparking tensions with Beijing by pushing for a separate identity for the island, continues beyond his death. After his presidency, Lee was indicted on charges of embezzling public funds, but was acquitted.
And later in life, he was criticised for his pro-Japanese colonial views, which were considered outdated. He visited Japan’s Yasukuni Shrine, which honours World War Two war criminals, and rejected as lies Japan’s wartime atrocities – the Nanjing Massacre and use of so-called comfort women as sex slaves. He also upset many Taiwanese by saying the Taiwan-claimed Diaoyutai Islands belonged to Japan.
The Foreign Policy Research Institute was helding a round table about Lee´s legacy for Tawain and the USA:
“On July 30, 2020, former President Lee Teng-hui of Taiwan passed away at the age of 97. He had served as vice president to President Chiang Ching-kuo, the son of Chiang Kai-shek, before becoming president himself. Lee was the first Taiwan-born president and also the first democratically elected president of the Republic of China, earning him the nickname of “Mr. Democracy.” His tenure as president saw great change and transformation in Taiwan: he finished Taiwan’s long path to democracy and ended the decades-long martial law. To evaluate his legacy, Thomas J. Shattuck, Managing Editor and Asia Program Research Associate at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and Jacques deLisle, Asia Program Director at FPRI, discuss Lee’s role in making Taiwan what it is today.
What do you see as Lee Teng-hui’s legacy domestically and internationally?
Jacques deLisle: There are likely to be two principal legacies, one of which seems well-settled and the other of which may be less determined as yet. He will be remembered as the father of Taiwanese democracy. To be sure, the seeds were planted earlier, in the dangwai, among exiles during Taiwan’s authoritarian era, and—farther back—in the authoritarian-era KMT regime’s tolerance for a modicum of democracy at local levels. Foundations for the transition were laid during the final years of Chiang Ching-kuo’s presidency. Taiwan’s constitutional court played a key role as well. And Lee came to the presidency initially by succession, rather than democratic election. But none of that can—or should—take anything away from the fact that Lee was the first democratically elected president of Taiwan, or from his crucial role in advocating for democracy and in shepherding Taiwan into full-fledged democracy. Taiwan’s peaceful transition, in which Lee played a defining and high-profile role, was—and remains—a remarkable accomplishment, all the more so given the consolidation and continued vibrancy of Taiwan’s democratic politics a quarter-century later.
Lee will also be remembered for his impact on questions of Taiwan’s status and sovereignty. His tenure was pivotal in moving the ROC position away from the traditional and long-increasingly-untenable KMT claim that there was one China with the point of contention being whether the ROC or the PRC was the rightful government, to a position that asserted Taiwan’s separate, at-least-state-like status—without crossing Beijing’s redline of a formal declaration of independence. For now, Lee’s legacy on this front remains uncertain. Thus far, his innovation of a framework of a viable, if formally murky, functional independence for Taiwan has proved remarkably resilient. If Taiwan were someday to become a fully, formally independent state, Lee surely would be remembered as the father of Taiwanese independence as well as Taiwanese democracy.
Thomas Shattuck: Jacques, you summed up Lee’s legacy pretty well. I’d just like to emphasize how critical of a role the democracy element is not just for Taiwan, but for the rest of the world. People often forget (or more realistically, don’t know) that Taiwan “fully” democratized around the same time/slightly after post-Soviet states. There were local elements of democracy in cities before 1996, but let’s face it, if the people are not voting for the national leader, then the claim to being a democracy is quite weak. Lee’s decision to finish that push by making the 1996 presidential election a direct election still is a model for countries going through democratization. He was the incumbent and still decided to let the people vote for or against him. This decision makes him more of a George Washington figure in Taiwan than Chiang Kai-shek. He led Taiwan through its first transition between political parties—from the KMT to Chen Shui-bian, a member of the Democratic Progressive Party—peacefully. I jokingly say that Taiwan is the most successful “post-Soviet state” because Taiwan’s democracy has gotten stronger since 1996, while the status of democracy in other post-Soviet countries (looking at Poland and Hungary) is no longer settled. Without Lee, Taiwan wouldn’t be where it is today.
How did Lee’s relationship with the United States evolve between the key years of 1994 and 1996, that is between his controversial trip to Honolulu and Third Taiwan Strait Crisis/First Direct Presidential Election?
deLisle: Lee started out as something of a thorn in the side of the Clinton administration, which took significant heat from Taiwan’s friends in Congress for allowing Lee nothing more than a refueling stop in Hawaii as the first visit by an ROC president to the U.S. after the severing of diplomatic relations in 1979. Congressional pressure also led to the Clinton administration’s acquiescence in allowing Lee the visit on which he gave his famous speech at his alma mater, Cornell University—a speech that angered Beijing, which announced the missile tests that led to the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis in the run-up to Taiwan’s first fully democratic presidential election. Despite this fraught backstory, the missile crisis was a turning point in Taiwan’s favor in U.S.-Taiwan relations. The dispatch of a carrier group to the region was a striking demonstration of U.S. support. And Taiwan’s successful first-ever democratic presidential election—which Lee, of course, won—in the shadow of PRC efforts to intimidate Taiwan voters not to support Lee was a major step forward in the values-based component of the support Taiwan has enjoyed from the United States.
Shattuck: The Honolulu refueling stop is the moment that things seemed to have changed for U.S.-Taiwan relations. It was an embarrassing move to make a national leader not leave his plane. Now, whenever a president of Taiwan makes a stopover visit, he or she sits down with members of Congress, or in the case of Tsai Ing-wen visits NASA, a federal building. If the COVID crisis in the United States ever ends, it is realistic to expect that Tsai’s next stopover will have something even more special occur. Then, with the missile tests that became the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis, U.S. support never wavered. The relationship has had its peaks and valleys depending on the executives, but arms sales continues to this day; a Cabinet-level official is scheduled to visit Taiwan for the first time in a few years; the U.S. patrols the Taiwan Strait regularly. The fact that China played the bully role at the same time that Taiwan was having its first democratic presidential election was a necessary combination for Clinton to finally back Taiwan’s existence. As China’s military grows stronger, U.S.-Taiwan relations cannot afford to go back to pre-1995 levels of lack of care. In effect, those critical years in Lee’s presidential term put U.S.-Taiwan relations on the path that they are today.
It has become a tradition in Taiwan for each president to have his or her own term/concept for approaching cross-Strait relations. For Lee Teng-hui, it was “special state-to-state relations.” Twenty years later, where do you see his formulation for viewing the cross-Strait lens?
deLisle: Lee’s characterization of cross-Strait relations as “special state-to-state relations”—which Beijing derided as a “two state” thesis—has faded from the lexicon (with even Chen Shui-bian promising not to constitutionalize Lee’s formulation). But the basic notions in Lee’s framing—which was more complex than “special state-to-state relations” and included, among other things, assertions that cross-Strait relations were neither fully international nor fully domestic—and the core of his cross-Strait policies have persisted in substance. Steering between formal declarations of independence, on one hand, and commitments to move toward unification, on the other hand, has been the basic course that his successors have charted, steering more or less (and often more) close to the dangers that lie at either side. Ideas set forth in the Lee-era Guidelines for National Unification remain important today, in that Taiwan’s policy is not to take the China-provoking move of definitively ruling out unification (although Lee’s approach of setting preconditions that Beijing would not meet has given way to a straightforward official agnosticism about ultimate, distant-future end-states). Arguably, President Tsai is closer to President Lee’s careful and nuanced navigation of the treacherous waters of cross-Strait relations than Presidents Chen or Ma were—and perhaps not surprisingly so, given her role in shaping Lee’s “state-to-state” policy.
Shattuck: I’m going to focus on a different element of this question: the Chinese reaction to Lee’s death and how that plays into his cross-Strait formula. Global Times editor Hu Xijin wrote a piece on Lee after his death. The vitriol that Hu spits shows Beijing’s insecurity and disdain towards Lee. “Lee is undoubtedly a sinner in the eyes of the Chinese nation. The sharp turn he initiated in Taiwan politics has greatly increased resistance to China’s rise and brought long-term strategic risks to Taiwan. . . . His name will live in infamy in the Chinese history as he stood against the Chinese people in their goal of national reunification.” While Taiwan and democratic nations view Lee positively as “Mr. Democracy,” those on the other side of the Taiwan Strait view him as the godfather of secession/independence—which links to Lee’s “special state-to-state relations” formula. That set the groundwork for Taiwan’s current status. Beijing continues to squeeze Taipei particularly in the diplomatic realm as a way to ensure that Taiwan is never considered “special” by other countries. The situation between China and Taiwan is still unsettled, but Lee’s example points to a different vision for a country’s governance, which is important in 2020 as Xi Jinping continues to consolidate his own authority domestically.
Lee Teng-hui had an interesting political trajectory after he left office. He went from Chiang Ching-kuo’s successor and “Mr. Democracy” to being expelled from the Kuomintang for his views on Taiwan’s sovereignty. Where does that political evolution place in Taiwan’s political history?
deLisle: In terms of formal affiliation, Lee traversed much of the visible spectrum of Taiwan’s politics, from being vice president in a Chiang-led KMT regime to founder of the Taiwan Solidarity Union—a “deeper green” party than the DPP. But that story likely overstates the extent of any changes his views, even publicly expressed ones. Inherent in his status as the first Taiwanese (as opposed to “mainlander”) president of the ROC, implicit in his early and sustained advocacy for democracy (which inevitably called for Taiwanese governing themselves and doing so autonomously), and reinforced in his notion of a “New Taiwanese” (including all people in Taiwan, regardless of origin and background) was a claim of democratic self-determination and sovereignty that gets fairly close to Taiwan independence. His post-presidential views were more openly status quo-challenging, but changes in role matter here: the head of a small political party and a president face different restrictions. And his support for Tsai’s candidacies—back to her unsuccessful presidential run in 2012—reflects a good many things, including an evident appreciation of politics as the art of the possible.
Shattuck: Lee’s political development, or as Jacques notes, the change in his position and circumstance make him such an interesting character. Presidents of any country are often restricted in what they can say vs. what they want to say (one notable American exception). After leaving office, Lee (and really any national leader) can finally say what they want, and in Taiwan, the executive must be even more careful about the most simply statements, so Lee’s move from a KMT president to “deep-Green” makes his political life a great case study in what happens when someone is freed from the shackles of political office.”
Taiwanese President Tsai Yingwen and her DDP sees herself as the inheritance administrator of Lee Tenghui and a fourth Taiwan crisis could result from this which could become Biden´s first direct challenge with a this time better prepared and armed PR China. And it might be not only a challenge in the Far East, but also in Europe.
Russia and Belarus have been training their military together since Friday. Around 200,000 soldiers are expected to take part in the one-week large-scale maneuver “Sapad 2021” in Belarus and on the Baltic Sea. NATO, neighboring countries and the German government are critical of the maneuver as the greatest NATO drills in the East involved at maximum only 40 000 troops. Against the background of growing tensions between Belarus and its western neighbors, the country’s army has started joint military exercises with Russia. The Sapad maneuver – in English West – was started on Friday near the border with the EU and, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, should last a week. Around 200,000 soldiers, more than 80 aircraft and helicopters, 760 war vehicles, including more than 290 tanks and up to 15 ships, are involved. According to Moscow, the exercises will take place in Belarus, the western part of Russia and on the Baltic Sea. NATO and its Eastern European neighbors Russia and Belarus ‘are watching the maneuver with concern. The German government is also following the maneuver „with great attention,“ as a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministery said in Berlin on Friday. If 200,000 soldiers were actually involved, the maneuver would be “extraordinarily large”. She emphasized that 40,000 members of the army took part in the largest NATO exercise in recent years.
Tensions between Belarus and its EU neighbors Lithuania, Latvia and Poland had increased significantly in recent months. The EU accuses Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko of deliberately smuggling migrants from the Middle East across the borders of these countries into the EU in order to retaliate against European sanctions decisions. In Poland there has been an unprecedented state of emergency in the border area with Belarus since the beginning of September. The government in Warsaw had previously spoken of a “hybrid threat” in view of the thousands of illegal border crossings. Poland’s Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said that the Belarusian-Russian military maneuver was a test of the Polish “immune system”. The exercises gave Moscow and Minsk the opportunity to engage in “hybrid activities” such as “disinformation, provocations and border incidents,” the minister said in an interview with the Polska Times newspaper published on Friday. He also warned of „increased migratory pressure“ on Poland, Latvia and Lithuania as a result of the exercises.
Soldiers from Armenia, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia are also expected to take part in the exercise. According to the Belarusian state media, the presidents of Russia and Belarus, Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko, want to personally get an idea of the exercise. NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu has called on Russia to ensure transparency in the military maneuver „Sapad-2021“. All countries have the right to train their armed forces, „but they have to meet their transparency obligations,“ she told journalists. NATO observers have not yet received an invitation to the Russian combat exercise. Nonetheless, the Western military alliance wanted to follow the Russian exercise very closely, the spokeswoman said, referring to the OSCE’s Vienna Document. „The document requires observers for exercises with more than 13,000 participants.“ According to Lungescu, the extent of the previous „Sapad“ exercises has exceeded all announcements. The Russian Defense Ministry announced on Friday that armed forces from nine friendly nations had been invited to participate in the „Sapad-2021“ military maneuver: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Sri-Lanka, India and Serbia. Other countries are allowed to send their observers, namely China, Vietnam, Myanmar, Pakistan and Uzbekistan. The armed forces of the participating states are expected this Friday at the Mulino military training area about 300 kilometers east of Moscow. As a response Ukraine starts “Joint Efforts 2021”.
The command staff exercise of the Ukrainian armed forces „Joint Efforts 2021“ will take place from September 22nd to 30th and has a defensive character. This was stated by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Valeri Saluschnyj, in front of the press on Friday. The maneuver aimed at improving Ukraine’s defense capabilities and interoperability between armies of partner countries, he said. According to Saluschnyj, “Joint Efforts 2021” is a response to the Russian military exercise “Sapad 2021” and a possible threat to the Russian invasion. “The armed forces of Ukraine are adequately responding to possible large-scale aggression against our country. Evidence of this is the implementation of the joint strategic exercise by Russia and Belarus, which is currently taking place, and the stationing of additional troops and weapons along the state border, as well as on the territory of the Republic of Belarus. Most likely, our enemy has such intentions, so we need to respond and improve our preparation, ”Salushny said. The command staff exercise “Joint Efforts 2021” will take place in three stages on the largest military training areas and in the Black and Azov Seas. Military personnel from the USA, Great Britain, Canada, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, Georgia, Sweden, Jordan, Moldova and Italy will take part in the maneuver.