Wed, Sep 12, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Russia starts biggest war games since USSR

Reuters, MOSCOW

A frame grab provided by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service yesterday shows Russian armored personnel carriers participating in military exercises in the Chita region of Russia’s eastern Siberia during Vostok-2018.

Photo: Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP

Russia 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.

China and Russia have staged joint drills before, but not on such a large scale and the Vostok-2018 (East-2018) exercise signals closer military ties, as well as sending an unspoken reminder to Beijing that Moscow is able and ready to defend its sparsely populated far east.

Vostok-2018 is taking place at a time of heightened tension between the West and Russia, and NATO has said it would monitor the exercise closely, as would the US, which has a strong military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Russian Ministry of Defense yesterday broadcast images of military trucks being transported on trains, columns of tanks, armored vehicles and warships on the move, and combat helicopters and fighter aircraft taking off.

The activity was part of the first stage of the exercise, which runs until Monday next week, the ministry said in a statement.

It involved deploying forces to Russia’s far east and building up its Northern and Pacific fleets.

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

The location of the main training range, 5,000km east of Moscow, means it is likely to be watched closely by Japan, North and South Korea, as well as by China and Mongolia, both of whose armies are to take part in the maneuvers later this week.

Analysts have said that Moscow had to invite the Chinese and Mongolian militaries given the proximity of the war games to their borders and because the scale meant the neighboring nations would probably have seen them as a threat had they been excluded.

By chance or design, the exercise — which is to involve more than 1,000 military aircraft, two Russian naval fleets and all Russian airborne units — is taking place while Russian President Vladimir Putin holds talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in the Russian port city of Vladivostok.

Relations between Moscow and Beijing have long been marked by mutual wariness, with Russian nationalists warning of encroaching Chinese influence in the nation’s mineral-rich far east, but Russia pivoted east toward China after the West sanctioned Moscow over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and trade links between the two, who share a land border more than 4,200km long, have blossomed since.

Some experts see the war games as a message to Washington from Moscow and Beijing.

“With its Vostok-2018 exercise, Russia sends a message that it regards the US 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. “China, by sending a PLA [People’s Liberation Army] element to train with the Russians, is signaling that US pressure is pushing it towards much closer military cooperation with Moscow.”

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