Russia kicks off biggest war games in decades

Lamar Ellis
September 12, 2018

The week-long war games dubbed "Vostok-2018" (East-2018), "have kicked off" in far eastern Russian Federation and on the Pacific Ocean, the defense ministry said in a statement.

"The maneuvers are not directed against other countries and are in line with our military doctrine, which is defensive in character", said Valery Gerasimov, the chief of Russia's general staff.

Russian Federation yesterday began its biggest war games since the fall of the Soviet Union close to its border with China, mobilizing 300,000 troops in a show of force that is to include joint exercises with the Chinese army.

The main aim was to check the military's readiness to move troops large distances and test how closely infantry and naval forces cooperated.

He said it would involve more than 1,000 warplanes, helicopters, and drones; up to 80 combat and logistics ships; and up to 36,000 tanks, armored personnel carriers, and other vehicles.

But Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said these exercises are even larger, with 300,000 soldiers, 36,000 military vehicles, 1,000 planes and 80 warships taking part in the drills.

"With its Vostok-2018 exercise, Russia sends a message that it regards the United States 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. Mongolia also sent a small contingent. "I see little in the long term that aligns Russian Federation and China".

The start of the exercises coincided with a bilateral meeting between President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping at a forum in Valdivostok, where they vowed to fight attacks on their economies.

Will President Putin be involved?

The drills are underway at five military training grounds in Russia's Far East region, and in the waters of the East Sea, the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk.

This week, Russian Federation held military exercises in the Mediterranean.

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"They feel they need to embrace to deal with the increasingly high pressure and containment from the US", said Yue Gang, a military expert and retired Chinese army colonel.

The Russian 9K720 Iskander missile system carrier.

The country´s war games in Eastern Europe a year ago, Zapad-2017, saw 12,700 troops take part according to Moscow.

The Chinese media touted the Chinese involvement in the maneuvers as the country's largest-ever dispatch of forces overseas for war games.

From China's perspective, the emerging military alliance with Russian Federation sends a strong signal to the USA and its ally Japan as Beijing moves to defend its interests in the South China Sea, which China claims virtually in its entirety, as well as Taiwan and the Senkaku and Diaoyu islands controlled by Japan but claimed by Beijing.

Hong Kong-based commentator Song Zhongping said China was anxious to acquire more experience in large-scale operations that might become a factor in a conflict with the U.S. and others over territorial claims in Asia.

The September 11-17 exercises, called Vostok-2018 (East-2018) and billed by Moscow as its biggest in decades - or in history - come amid persistently high tension between Moscow and the West and are being closely watched by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

For Russia, the increasingly robust alliance with China is particularly important amid the growing tensions with the USA and its allies and a looming threat of more biting US sanctions.

"We have trustworthy ties in political, security and defence spheres", the Russian leader said. "They demonstrate the seriousness of our intentions".

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