Russia is to hold its biggest military maneuvers since the height of the Cold War next month, mobilizing about 300,000 troops and including the participation of thousands of soldiers from China, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said
The Vostok-2018 exercises in Russia’s eastern and central military districts — spanning from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific coast — from Sept. 11-15 will involve almost a third of the country’s soldiers, making them the largest since 1981, Shoigu said, according to a ministry press release. Some 1,000 aircraft and both the Northern and Pacific fleets will be deployed.
“Imagine 36,000 tanks and armored personnel carriers all moving at the same time,” the defense minister said. “This will all be tested under conditions as close as possible to war.”
Russia stoked alarm a year ago when it staged major war games on its western flank neighboring Poland and the Baltic States that NATO said involved 100,000 troops — far above the 13,000 soldiers that Russian officials said took part. Next month’s military exercises will be the most ambitious since the “Zapad-81” drills in 1981 staged by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies. Chinese and Mongolian forces will also participate.
“In some ways, these maneuvers repeat Zapad-81, but in others they’re probably even bigger,” Shoigu said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the drills were needed to ensure Russia’s military capabilities “in the current international situation, which is often quite aggressive and unfriendly to our country.”
Vasily Kashin, a senior fellow at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that Kremlin is “preparing for possible conflict” amid the chilliest relations with the U.S. for decades. Such large maneuvers are aimed “partly at showing our preparedness and partly to increase our actual readiness for war. The situation is bad.”
China, which has steadily tightened ties with Moscow in recent years, will contribute 3,200 troops and 30 aircraft.
“This is a new step. It’s the first time Chinese forces have been allowed in internal maneuvers, not joint ones,” said Kashin. “For the moment, there’s no sign that Russia and China are preparing a full military alliance, but on the military level, that’s what’s happening.”
Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said the Chinese participation is evidence of “the expansion of cooperation in all areas between two allies.”
(Updates with Shoigu, analyst quotes in fifth and seventh paragraphs.)
–With assistance from Dandan Li.
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