MOSCOW 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.
The Russian army has compared the show of force to the USSRs 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. Russias previous military exercise in the region, Vostok-2014, was almost half the size, with 155,000 soldiers participating.
The countrys war games in Eastern Europe last year, Zapad-2017, saw 12,700 troops take part according to Moscow. Ukraine and the Baltic states claim the true number was far bigger. President Vladimir Putin is expected to attend Vostok-2018 after hosting an economic forum in Russias 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. The armys General Staff believes this will take place after 2020 in the form of either a global war or a series of conflicts with magnitude, he said. The enemy is the United States and its allies.
According to Felgenhauer, Chinas participation although modest with only 3,200 men will be a key factor at the drills. Its not just about a sign or a message, but about a preparation for a real-life war of great magnitude, he said. This opinion was shared by NATO, which said that Vostok-2018 demonstrates Russias focus on exercising large-scale conflict.