On September 11th, the Vostok-2018 military exercises, involving Russian, Chinese and Mongolian troops began in Russia’s Far East, as announced by the Russian Ministry of Defense in a statement.
“The military maneuvers have received an international status since Chinese and Mongolian troops will also take part in one of the drill’s stages. In particular, the Chinese Air Force will send 26 helicopters and 6 jets to Russia for taking part in Vostok-2018 military drills, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. According to the ministry, the Chinese Air Force group will also include six Mi-171 helicopters, which have been bought in Russia, as well as nine Z-9 and nine Z-19 choppers,” Sputnik cited the Ministry of Defense.
“Over 6,000 troops from three military formations and three separate units of the Airborne will participate in the Vostok-2018 drills,” the ministry said in a statement. The ministry added that over 900 pieces of armoured and wheeled vehicles of the Airborne would be used for the exercises.
Overall, almost 300,000 servicemen, 36,000 tanks, armored personnel carriers and other vehicles, more than a thousand aircraft will take part in the exercises. Chinese Ministry of National Defense has not released any recent numbers. However, in August the Ministry released a statement confirming participation and saying that China will dispatch about 3,200 troops, along with more than 900 pieces of weaponry and 30 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, to conduct fire strike and counter-attack training, among others.
The Vostok-2018 war games are the biggest ever, since the Zapad 1981 exercises during the Soviet Union era. In August, when they were announced, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that “these are the largest drills of the Armed Forces, which acquired the status of international drills, since the Zapad 1981 exercises, it has an unprecedented scale, both in terms of spatial scope and number of involved military command, troops and forces.”
Putin praised Russia’s increasingly close ties with China as he met with Xi at the economic forum in Vladivostok on September 11th.
“We have trustworthy ties in political, security and defence spheres,” the Russian leader said.
Chinese President Xi for his part said the two countries’ “friendship is getting stronger all the time.”
The Russian-organized drills took off on September 11th and will continue through September 17th. They also coincide with NATO’s Rapid Trident 2018 drills, which are currently taking place. They began on September 3rd and are to continue through September 15th. The maneuvers will aim to check the combat skills of the Russian land, air and naval forces. The exercises will be held across nine training ranges and three seas: the Sea of Japan, the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk.
Turkey may also participate in Vostok-2018. On September 9th, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan informed media about an official invitation by the Russian military authorities to the Turkish military’s participation to the drill. The invitation was extended to Turkey during the Tehran Summit on Syria with the participation of the leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran last week.
Hurriyet Daily news on September 12th cited “reliable sources” that as a result of evaluations Turkey has allegedly decided to deploy military observers to the exercises instead of participating directly. The sources claim the reason is NATO found the drill a threatening move and against the allied security considerations, prompting Turkey to send senior military personnel from Turkey’s military attaché of its embassy in Moscow. The invitation by Russia to Turkey shows the improvement of relations between the countries amid Turkey’s diplomatic row with the US.
In a statement, NATO underlined the need of transparency and predictability when conducting the military exercise, stressing “Vostok demonstrates Russia’s focus on exercising large-scale conflict. It fits into a pattern we have seen over some time: A more assertive Russia, significantly increasing its defense budget and its military presence.”
Lincoln Bloomfield, Distinguished Fellow and Chairman Emeritus at the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan policy research center was cited by CNBC saying that the Pentagon will be watching Russia and China’s expanding military capabilities, as well the upcoming “war games,” very closely. “The Russians have been investing in some fairly sophisticated and troublesome systems, they’re looking at the growing access to the Arctic and developing submarines, and I think the Pentagon is watching Russia very closely,” he said.
The Mirror called the war games a “chilling warning to the West,” reporting that the infantrymen, taking part in the exercise are “Red army” soldiers. According to the outlet the exercise is a mock invasion. “The area the army will cover is thought to be the size of India,” the outlet reported. Despite Russia and China announcing that the exercises are not targeted at any particular country.
“The main objectives of the maneuvers are: to check readiness of command and control bodies when planning and regrouping troops, cooperation of ground forces and the Navy, improve skills of commanders and staff in command and control when preparing and conducting combat actions,” Russia’s defense ministry said.