By Eryk Schumacher
On 11 September 2018, Russia began the Vostok war games, biggest since the fall of the Soviet Union. The exercise involved 297,000 troops, over 1000 aircraft, 36,000 tanks, and 80 warships. The games were attended by over 3,000 military personnel from Mongolia and China. Russian and Chinese officials claim that the war games were an attempt to increase the defensive capabilities of both of the nations.
The games took place in the vast tundra of Siberia in the far eastern portion of the country, near the Mongolian and Chinese border. Vostok took the form of a week-long stimulated skirmish between two designated sides. The exercise was spread across five army training grounds, four air bases and naval areas in the vicinity of the Sea of Japan, Bering Strait, and the sea of Okhotsk. The Russian Supreme Commander in Chief Sergei Shoigu announced in the press briefing before the exercises, that the games will be of “unprecedented scale both in territory and number of troops involved”.
In preparation for the games, the Russian command ordered a surprise inspection of long-range aviation as well as air transport units and airborne brigades in anticipation for the drills. These drills included staging parachute jumps, shooting down cruise missiles and conducting Anti-Terrorist operations. In press releases, Russian officials accentuated that potential Islamic terrorism in Central Asia is the most ample threat to the stability of Russia.
In the previous war games, Zapad 81’, only 150,000 thousand troops participated, according to CIA documents. Although Zapad’s objective was to coerce the anti-communist Solidarity movement in Poland into restraining their activities, President Putin insisted that the intention of the Vostok games is contrary to that of Zapad by saying: “The exercise is not directed against any third party” and will focus on “maneuver defense, firepower strikes and counterattack”.
The War Games also signify an improvement in Russian-Chinese relations, as President Putin visits Beijing in the first two days of the exercise while Chinese troops attended the games. Chinese military officials spoke of the deepening of the Russo-Chinese military cooperation and augmenting their ability to responds to “various security threats”. Although the increased cooperation between the Chinese and Russian military is evident, many experts say that a possible military alliance is not feasible. One of the analysts, Pavel Baev, wrote in a recent Jamestown Foundation article, that “In real terms, this much-trumpeted relationship is rather ambiguous.”