The relations between Russia and the West have become strained since Russia made military incursions into Eastern Ukraine and annexed Crimea with its territory in 2014. As a result, it was expelled from the G8 and was renamed G7. The situation has worsened after Russia poisoned the ex-Soviet spy Sergei Kripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal when they were in the UK. Following this, 23 Russian diplomats were expelled from the UK and President Donald Trump expelled 60 Russian intelligence officers from the US.
He also ordered the Russian consulate in Seattle to be closed. Though Moscow denied this criticism, most of the European countries and New Zealand turned against Russia and in a joint statement, the leaders of the US, UK, France, and Germany criticized Russia for this attack.
The recent military drill which is considered the biggest in Russia since 1981, shook the entire world. It took place in the border of Russia, China and Mongolia with the participation of nearly 300,000 Russian troops, 3200 Chinese troops, and troops from Mongolia. Both land and air units including 1000 aircraft and 900 tanks were used in this exercise. China had sent 24 battle helicopters and six jets for the first time. Zapad-81 which took place in 1981 with Warsaw pact allies of 100,000-150,000 troops was the largest drill until September 11.
In 1969, there was a border clash between the communist rivals which threatened to spark a nuclear war between China and the then Soviet Union. The relations got normalized after Soviet leader Mikhail S.Gorbachev visited Beijing in 1989. The motive behind these military drills was usually to protect Russia from military-assertive Peoples Liberation Army of China. However, this time Vostok-2018 has become a strategic exercise by bringing the foes into friends with the common purpose of counterweighing the US. Russian media called this initiative as an ‘anti-American military alliance’.
The tension in North Korea has already brought these two powers together. It can be noted that Putin and Xi Jinping recently condemned the US for militarization in the region and they called for a common peace plan in the peninsula. Kremlin accuses the West of their aggressive and unfriendly behaviour.
There is a need for Russia to strengthen its military in order to counter NATO in the West and as it has no obvious enemies in the East, it keens to have a close tie with China. The message Putin intended to convey to the West is quite clear that, in times of diplomatic tensions with the West, they are not militarily isolated and Russia regards US as a potential enemy and China as a potential ally.