By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Russia’s defense minister said the country will hold its biggest military exercises since almost 40 years.
Sergei Shoigu said on August 28 that the drills, called Vostok-2018, will involve almost 300,000 troops, more than 1,000 aircraft, both the Pacific and Northern Fleets, and all Russian airborne units. They will take place in the central and eastern military districts, in southern Siberia, and the Far East.
“This is the biggest drill to take place in Russia since 1981,” Shoigu said in a statement.
He was referring to the Zapad exercises that year, which involved Soviet and other Warsaw Pact forces and were the largest war drills ever carried out by the Soviet Union and its allies.
The Vostok-2018 exercises are set to be carried out from September 11-15 with the participation of Chinese and Mongolian military personnel.
The maneuvers come as relations between Moscow and the West have deteriorated to a post-Cold War low. Tensions have been stoked by Russia’s seizure of Crimea, its role in wars in Syria and eastern Ukraine, and its alleged election meddling in the United States and Europe.
In recent years, Russia’s military has stepped up the frequency and scope of its military exercises, reflecting the Kremlin’s multiyear focus on modernizing its armed forces and its tactics.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that such war games were “essential” in the current international situation, which he said is “often aggressive and unfriendly toward our country.”
NATO spokesman Dylan White said that Russia had briefed the alliance, which planned to monitor them.
“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,” White said in a statement.
Russia last held large-scale war games in September 2017, in regions bordering NATO countries in the Baltics.
Moscow and Minsk said the joint maneuvers involved some 12,700 troops in the two countries combined, but Western officials have said the true number may have been around 100,000.