Russia starts biggest war games since Soviet fall near China

Howard TerrySep 12, 2018

The Vostok 2018 exercise, the largest in Russia's modern history, which involves 300,000 troops, got underway in the Eastern Military District on Tuesday, the press service of the Russian Defense Ministry told reporters.

Given the close proximity, the invitation of the Chinese and Mongolian militaries to take part is likely to be a diplomatic as much as a strategic move on the part of the Russians, given the fact that the massive scale of the exercises would have been seen as a threat had they not been involved.

He said the drills are the largest since 1981, when the USSR was still in a Cold War with the United States.

"It fits into a pattern we have seen over some time - a more assertive Russian Federation, significantly increasing its defense budget and its military presence", White said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will be in Russian Federation this week to meet with President Vladimir Putin at an economic forum in Russia's far eastern city of Vladivostok.

The last war games in Vostok were in 2014 but were nearly half of the size with 155,000 soldiers taking part.

Putin said Moscow has a "trusting relationship" with Beijing "in politics, security, and defense".

Last month, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia's "ability to defend itself in the current global situation which is often aggressive and unfriendly to our country is justified, essential and without alternative".

"With its Vostok 2018 exercise Russia sends a message that it regards the U.S.as a potential enemy and China as a potential ally", wrote Dmitri Trenin, a former Russian army colonel and director of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank.

Russian officials have said that the war games are not meant as a threat to any particular country but are justified by what Putin's spokesman described on August 28 as a hostile worldwide environment.

Peskov has earlier said Russia's "ability to defend itself in the current worldwide situation which is often aggressive and unfriendly to our country is justified, essential and without alternative".

On September 10, Peskov called Vostok-2018 part of "a regular, routine training process aimed at improving skills and coordination in our armed forces".

Relations between Russian Federation and the West have been severely strained by Moscow's actions in Ukraine and Syria and its alleged interference in elections in the United States and European countries.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has described the drills as even bigger than the country's largest Cold War-era exercise - Zapad 1981 - that put North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies on edge.

Russian Federation will showcase some of its latest military hardware at Vostok-2018, including nuclear-capable Iskander missiles T-90 tanks and Su-35 fighter jets.

The Kremlin also will deploy 36,000 military vehicles, 80 ships and 1,000 aircraft, helicopters and drones, while the Chinese will provide some 3,500 troops for the games.

"Imagine 36,000 military vehicles moving all at the same time; tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles - and all of these in conditions as close to a combat situation as possible", Sergey Shoigu, Russia's defense minister, said this month.

Russian Federation has begun the world's largest military drills, involving 300,000 soldiers.

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