Russia has begun the world’s largest military drills, involving 300,000 soldiers. The week-long deployment dubbed “Vostok-2018” (East-2018), which kicked off in eastern Siberia and includes the Chinese and Mongolian armies, has been condemned by NATO as a rehearsal for “large-scale conflict”.
“The Vostok 2018 troop exercises have begun in Russia’s Far East,” the defence ministry said in a report by TASS.
Taking part in the drills are about 300,000 Russian troops, over 1,000 aircraft, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles, up to 36,000 tanks, armoured personnel carriers and other vehicles, up to 80 ships and supply vessels, the Defence Ministry added.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu supervises the drills.
Exercises similar in scale have not been held since 1981 when the Zapad-81 drills that involved about 100,000 troops were held in the Soviet Union’s Belarusian, Kiev and Baltic Military Districts and in the Baltic Sea.
The Vostok 2018 exercise will last until September 17. According to Chief of Russia’s General Staff Valery Gerasimov, its main purpose is to check the level of training that can be assessed only in an exercise of proper scale.
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 prominent guests.
The military exercises come at a time of escalating tensions between Moscow and the West over accusations of Russian interference in western affairs and ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.
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.
NATO said that Vostok-2018 “demonstrates Russia’s focus on exercising large-scale conflict.