Russia, China begin war games

Russia began its largest war games since the Cold War on Tuesday, drilling hundreds of thousands of troops alongside forces from its growing ally China.

By Alec Luhn in Moscow
  • Published 12.09.18
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Chinese President Xi Jinping (second from left) cooks a pancake as his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (second from right) looks on at the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok on Tuesday. (AFP Photo / TASS Host Photo Agency / Sergei Bobylyov)

Moscow: Russia began its largest war games since the Cold War on Tuesday, drilling hundreds of thousands of troops alongside forces from its growing ally China.

With 300,000 soldiers, 36,000 vehicles, 1,000 aircraft and 80 ships, the Vostok exercises in eastern Russia will be even bigger than the Zapad training conducted by the Soviet Union in 1981, according to the defence minister.

They will last five days and take place across nine training grounds, the Sea of Japan and the Bering Strait.

It will be a triumphant moment for Vladimir Putin, who has made the military's modernisation a top priority following its post-Soviet stagnation and highlighted fantastic-sounding new nuclear weapons in his state-of-the-nation speech in March.

Preliminary manoeuvres have involved launching dummy torpedos at warships in the Sea of Okhotsk and shooting down cruise missiles and drones in Tajikistan. Coming a week before a summit between the leaders of North and South Korea, the war games will reiterate Moscow's bid to be a major military and diplomatic player in the region.

Some are speculating that one of the scenarios to be trained for will involve a nuclear conflict on the Korean peninsula.

Vostok, however, is not only a display of Russia's fighting power, but also a promotion of its warming ties with eastern neighbour and former foe China. Xi Jinping met Vladimir Putin at the Eastern Cconomic Forum in Vladivostok. Putin is also expected to make an appearance at the Vostok manoeuvres.

Although China has previously joined Russia for drills like naval games in the Baltic Sea last year, this is the first time it will participate in Moscow's annual strategic exercises, which practice the management of far-flung forces in a large-scale conflict.

The People's Liberation Army and air force will send 3,200 troops and 30 aircraft to the Tsugol training grounds east of Lake Baikal.

Russia has said it will train methods developed during its military intervention in Syria, giving Chinese forces - which haven't fought in a war since 1979 - a glimpse of real combat skills.

The unprecedented manoeuvres are being seen as a warning to Washington not to further strain relations with Russia or provoke it militarily.

"It's clear that such efforts can be directed at only one country, and that's US, because they're so massive," said Vasily Kashin, an expert in Russia-China relations at the Higher School of Economics. "At this moment Russia and China both see the US as the main potential adversary."

The Daily Telegraph