THOUSANDS of Chinese troops joined Russia’s biggest military games since the fall of the Soviet Union on Tuesday near the Chinese border.
For the exercise, Moscow mobilised 300,000 troops, 36,000 military vehicles, 80 ships and 1,000 aircraft, in a show of force amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West.
According to Reuters, the Vostok-2018 (East-2018) is the first time China and Russia have held joint drills. The exercise signals closer military ties as well as sending an unspoken reminder to Beijing that Moscow is able and ready to defend its sparsely populated far east.
Beijing sent 3,500 Chinese troops to take part in the exercise.
Russia’s Ministry of Defence broadcast images on Tuesday of columns of tanks, armoured vehicles and warships on the move, and combat helicopters and fighter aircraft taking off. It said the exercise will run until Sept 17.
The ministry said the exercise is aimed at checking the military’s readiness to move troops large distances, to test how closely infantry and naval forces cooperated, and to perfect command and control procedures. Later stages will involve rehearsals of both defensive and offensive scenarios.
Earlier this month, Russia also staged a major naval exercise in the eastern Mediterranean and its jets resumed bombing the Syrian region of Idlib, the last major enclave of rebels fighting its ally President Bashar al-Assad.
President Vladimir Putin is expected to attend the games after hosting an economic forum in Russia’s far eastern city Vladivostok where his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping is one of the prominent guests, according to the AFP.
The defence ministry released video footage of military vehicles, planes, helicopters and ships getting into position for the initial stage of the drills.
Putin praised Russia’s increasingly close ties with China as he met Xi at the economic forum in Vladivostok on Tuesday.
“We have trustworthy ties in political, security and defence spheres,” the Russian leader said.
Xi said the two countries’ “friendship is getting stronger all the time.”
NATO condemned the drills, which included Mongolian soldiers, as a rehearsal for “large-scale conflict”.
NATO said it was closely monitoring the exercise, as well as the United States, which has a strong military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.
The military exercises also come at a time of escalating tensions between Moscow and the West over accusations of Russian interference in western affairs and conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.