Russia kicked off its largest military exercises in decades alongside troops from China on Tuesday, a sign of the strengthening ties between Moscow and Beijing.
Known as Vostok-2018 (East-2018), the exercises are taking place at Russia’s Tusgol training grounds in Siberia over a seven-day period. The exercises include over 300,000 troops, 30,000 of which are Chinese, armored vehicles and military aircraft from both nations.
A massive expansion in size and scope, prior military exercises held by Russia are believed to have included as few as 12,000 troops. Vostok-2018 is the first time in which Russia has conducted drills with members of the People’s Liberation Army.
The drills encompass simulated operations on land, sea and air.
Despite concerns expressed by Washington over the nature of the maneuvers, the Russia Ministry of Defense has stated the exercises are purely defensive.
Addressing reporters at a press briefing, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Pskov said:
“These are very important drills but they are part of routine annual work to develop the armed forces.”
Despite the reassurances the drills are essentially benign, NATO has condemned the exercises as a dress rehearsal for an wide-ranging military conflict.
The exercises come at a time of eroding relations with the West. Russia has faced sanctions for its 2014 annexation of Crimea and involvement with pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.
The U.S. also contends the Kremlin attempted to interfere with the 2016 presidential election and both nations have clashed over resolving the conflict in Syria.
In addition, NBC News reported Tuesday anonymous U.S. officials are saying Russia is the leading suspect in a series of sophisticated, nearly undetectable “attacks” against American diplomats in China and Cuba over the past two years.
Similarly, China is locked in a heated trade war with the U.S. Washington has also objected to Chinese fortifications on artificial islands in the South China Sea.
These circumstances, a standoff with the West, particularly the U.S., have led economic and military experts to theorize both Russia and China will continue to bolster ties. A report by the United States Institute of Peace released on the 17th anniversary of 9/11 states the resurrection of both Eastern superpowers could lead to further destabilization in third world countries due to their growing interventionist policies without human rights doctrines.
As the joint drills got underway, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, at the fourth Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok for talks over the nations’ relations.
The two world leaders are said to have discussed military cooperation, economic ties, the evolving trade war between Beijing and Washington and the use of Russian and Chinese currency to enhance cross-border trade.
[Daily Mail] [AFP via Yahoo News] [Politico] [Photo courtesy Yuri Smityuk/TASS]