Russia to hold largest exercise since 1981
Russia says it will hold its biggest military exercise since 1981 in September, involving Chinese and Mongolian forces.
The news is likely to unsettle Japan, which is already uneasy about Russian deployments in the Pacific.
The September 11-15 war games will involve almost 300,000 troops, more than 1,000 aircraft, two of Russian fleets and numerous other assets, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said.
Shoigu said the exercise would be “on an unprecedented scale both in terms of the area covered and in terms of the numbers”.
“Imagine 36,000 pieces of military equipment moving together at the same time: tanks, armoured-personnel carriers, infantry-fighting vehicles. And all of this, of course, in conditions as close to combat as possible,” the minister said.
The exercises in central and eastern Russia, Vostok 2018 (meaning “east”) are the largest since the Zapad (west) exercises in 1981, which involved Warsaw Pact forces and were the biggest war drills ever carried out by the Soviet Union and its allies.
The exercises are also likely to displease Japan, which has complained about alleged Russian military buildup in the Asia-Pacific.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is due to attend the international Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok on Russia’s Pacific coast in September.
China’s state-run Xinhua news agency said about 3,200 troops and 900 units would be deployed from China for the exercises.
Russian coffers are currently facing higher social spending demands but presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said holding the exercises was essential.
“The country’s ability to defend itself in the current international situation, which is often aggressive and unfriendly towards our country, means [the manoeuvres are] justified,” Peskov told the media.
Nato spokesman Dylan White said Russia had briefed the alliance, which planned to monitor the manoeuvres.
“Vostok demonstrates Russia’s focus on exercising large-scale conflict. It fits into a pattern we have seen over some time: a more assertive Russia, significantly increasing its defence budget and its military presence,” said White.
Nato is planning for Trident Juncture 18, centred on Norway in late October, involving around 40,000 personnel.
Last September, Russia staged its Zapad-2017 exercise in western regions of Russia and allied Belarus, deploying roughly 13,000 personnel.
That raised concerns in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland that Russia might be testing routes to enter the former Soviet satellite republics.
Zapad 2017. Previous Russian exercises have preceded military invasions of its neighbours. Picture credit: Wikimedia