The world’s largest War Games are on in Russia, and the Chinese Prez is invited

Russia Tuesday mobilised ‘hundreds of thousands’ of troops in its largest military exercise ever, known as Vostok 2018.

by Elton Gomes

On Tuesday, Russia mobilised ‘hundreds of thousands’ of troops in its largest military exercise ever, known as Vostok 2018. Moscow has invited Chinese President Xi Jinping as one of its prominent guests. The week-long war games “have kicked off” in far eastern Russia, AFP quoted Russia’s defence ministry as saying.

The Russian defence ministry released video footage that showed the movement of almost 3,00,000 soldiers, 3,600 military vehicles, 80 ships, and 1000 aircraft besides helicopters and drones. Local media reports stated that close to 3,500 Chinese troops would be participating in Vostok 2018 that will have Russian President Vladimir Putin in attendance.

The massive military exercise comes as tensions run high between Washington and Moscow, and NATO-Russia relations also appear to be weak. In its bid to take on the US, China will look at the military drill as an important opportunity to appease Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at a forum in Vladivostok and told him “we have a trusting relationship in the sphere of politics, security and defence,” BBC reported.

What is Vostok 2018?

Vostok 2018 is considered to be the biggest military exercises or so-called “war games” since the Cold War and the Zapad drills in 1981. They are being conducted about 3,000 miles of Moscow. Increasing tensions between the West and Russia is potentially why the war games are being held.

It should be noted that Vostok 2018 comes as NATO simultaneously conducts its own Rapid Trident military drill programme in Ukraine. Ukraine-Russia relations have not been very good after Crimea was annexed to Russia in 2014.

Putin praises Russia-China ties

At the start of the military exercise on Tuesday, Putin said that Russia-China “friendship is getting stronger all the time”.

Several observers are of the opinion that Kremlin and Beijing have been developing ties to counter the US’ influence. Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that Chinese direct investment in Russia soared by 72 percent in 2017. Russia is currently China’s largest oil supplier. Gazprom, Russia’s largest energy company, is reportedly building a 3,000 km gas pipeline connecting eastern Siberia to the Chinese border. In addition to this, Putin and Xi seem to be getting along well, with the Chinese premier calling the Russian president his “best, most intimate friend”.

At the event on Tuesday, Xi said that China and Russia would work together to maintain stability and peace in the world. China and Russia would promote “the political resolution of hotspot issues, resolutely upholding the UN charters and principles and standing firm against unilateralism and protectionism to construct a new type of international relations and a community of shared future for mankind,” Xi commented alongside Putin, CNN reported.

NATO condemns drill

NATO has severely condemned Vostok 2018 and has called it a demonstration for exercising a ‘large-scale conflict’. “It fits into a pattern we have seen over some time — a more assertive Russia, significantly increasing its defence budget and its military presence,” NATO spokesperson Dylan White was quoted by news agency AFP. White further said that “all nations have the right to exercise their armed forces, but it is essential that this is done in a transparent and predictable manner”, BBC reported.

Kremlin accuses NATO of threatening Russian borders

Tensions between NATO and Russia have also been ongoing after the Kremlin accused NATO of threatening Russian borders. In July 2018, as part of a newspaper interview, Russia’s defense minister Sergei Shoigu criticized the United States and the U.S.-led military alliance for moving up forces and bases close to the Russian border.

“I have long wanted to give American colleagues a globe so they can look at it and explain why the declared ‘enemies of America,’ are located in the Middle East and the Far East and all their military bases and forces are snuggled up to Russian borders,” Shoigu was quoted in the interview with Italian newspaper Il Giornale, according to a Reuters report.

China, Russia look to strengthen ties to thwart US

It can be said that China and Russia have been moving closer in a bid to take on the US. Bobo Lo, an expert on Sino-Russian relations, told CNN that both Putin and Xi have separate reasons for wanting to enhance their relationship. “(China) is the perfect instrument to project Russia as a resurgent global power, so essentially the Russia narrative is that China, Russia and to a lesser extent India, are part of this new dynamic world order,” he said.

Dmitri Trenin, former Russian army colonel and director of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank, opined that Russia is sending a strong message through Vostok 2018: “With its Vostok 2018 exercise Russia sends a message that it regards the US as a potential enemy and China as a potential ally. China, by sending a PLA (People’s Liberation Army) element to train with the Russians, is signalling that US pressure is pushing it towards much closer military cooperation with Moscow,” the Express reported.

As the US threatens to impose more sanctions on China, the Pentagon will surely be keeping a close watch on proceedings between Moscow and Beijing.

Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius