MOSCOW, Sept 10 (AFP): Russia on Tuesday will launch the biggest military drills in its history involving 300,000 troops as well as Chinese soldiers, in a move NATO denounced as “exercising large-scale conflict”.
The week-long deployment alongside Chinese and Mongolian armies dubbed “Vostok-2018” (East-2018) will start in eastern Siberia on September 11.
It comes at a time of escalating tensions between Moscow and the West over accusations of Russian interference in western affairs and the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.
China is sending 3,200 troops to take part in Russia’s Vostok (East) military exercises. They’re scheduled every four years and some previous versions have modeled scenarios similar to a Russia-China conflict.
The Russian army has compared the show of force to the USSR’s 1981 war games that saw between 100,000 and 150,000 Warsaw Pact soldiers take part in “Zapad-81” (West-81) — the largest military exercises of the Soviet era.
But defence minister Sergei Shoigu said this time would be even larger, with 300,000 soldiers, 36,000 military vehicles, 1,000 planes and 80 warships taking part in the drills.
“Imagine 36,000 military vehicles moving at the same time: tanks, armoured personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles — and all of this, of course, in conditions as close to a combat situation as possible,” Shoigu said.
The Russian army will roll out all of its latest additions for the event: Iskander missiles that can carry nuclear warheads, T-80 and T-90 tanks and its recent Su-34 and Su-35 fighter planes.
At sea, the Russian fleet will deploy several frigates equipped with Kalibr missiles that have been used in Syria.
Russia’s previous military exercise in the region, Vostok-2014, was almost half the size, with 155,000 soldiers participating.
The country’s war games in Eastern Europe last year, Zapad-2017, saw 12,700 troops take part according to Moscow. Ukraine and the Baltic states said the true number was far bigger.
President Vladimir Putin is expected to attend Vostok-2018 after hosting an economic forum in Russia’s far eastern city Vladivostok where his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping is one of the star guests.
Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said the games were a “preparation for a future world war”.
Russia’s involvement in the war in Syria could also offer some lessons for China’s military, which last fought a war against Vietnam in 1979.
Russia and China have a growing trade relationship, with Russian oil, gas and foodstuffs moving in one direction, and Chinese consumer goods in the other.