Beijing issued a veiled threat to US President Donald Trump as Russia teamed up with China to launch its largest every military drills, with 300,000 Russian troops taking part along with Chinese soldiers in a massive show of force that has rattled the West.
The week-long war games dubbed ‘Vostok-2018’ (East-2018), ‘have kicked off’ in far eastern Russia and on the Pacific Ocean, the defence ministry said in a statement.
It released video footage of military vehicles, planes, helicopters and ships getting into position for the initial stage of the drills.
The drills, which include the Chinese and Mongolian armies, have been condemned by NATO as a rehearsal for ‘large-scale conflict’.
They coincide with talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of an economic forum in Vladivostok in Russia’s far east on Tuesday.
At a news conference following the talks, Xi declared that Russia and China should work together to oppose protectionism and what he called unilateral approaches to international problems.
Xi, whose country is locked in an escalating trade showdown with the United States, did not mention Washington – but said an increasingly unpredictable geopolitical climate made partnership between Russia and China even more important.
Putin praised Russia’s increasingly close ties with China, saying: ‘We have trustworthy ties in political, security and defence spheres.’
Xi for his part said the two countries’ ‘friendship is getting stronger all the time.’
President Vladimir Putin is expected to attend Vostok-2018 after hosting an economic forum in Russia’s far eastern city Vladivostok where his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping is one of the prominent guests.
Putin told Xi that Moscow and Beijing’s relations were based on trust in areas ranging from politics to security and defence.
He made the comments ahead of talks with his Chinese counterpart which are being held on the sidelines of an economic forum in the city of Vladivostok in Russia’s far east.
The military exercises come at a time of escalating tensions between Moscow and the West over accusations of Russian interference in western affairs and ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.
The Russian army has compared the show of force to the USSR’s 1981 war games that saw between 100,000 and 150,000 Warsaw Pact soldiers take part in ‘Zapad-81’ (West-81) – the largest military exercises of the Soviet era.
But Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said these exercises are even larger, with 300,000 soldiers, 36,000 military vehicles, 1,000 planes and 80 warships taking part in the drills.
He said the games would be at an ‘unprecedented scale both in territory and number of troops involved.’
Imagine 36,000 military vehicles moving at the same time: tanks, armoured personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles – and all of this, of course, in conditions as close to a combat situation as possible,’ Shoigu said.
Some 30 aircraft from the Chinese air force will also take part in the five day drills.
The Chinese claimed the vast operation was not ‘directed against any third party’ and would focus purely on ‘defences, firepower strikes and counterattack.’
The latest in a series of massive drills ordered by Putin come at a time of escalating tensions between Moscow and the West over accusations of Russian interference in western affairs and ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.
Vostok-2018 also features more than twice the number of troops in the entire British armed forces, which is just below 150,000.
The Russian army is rolling out all of its latest additions for the event: Iskander missiles that can carry nuclear warheads, T-80 and T-90 tanks and its recent Su-34 and Su-35 fighter planes.
At sea, the Russian fleet is deploying several frigates equipped with Kalibr missiles that have been used in Syria.
Wednesday will see games featuring anti-aircraft technology, while the main event will be on Thursday, the defence ministry told journalists covering the event in eastern Siberia.
NATO said that Vostok-2018 ‘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 defence budget and its military presence,’ the alliance’s spokesman Dylan White said in late August.
Last month, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia’s ‘ability to defend itself in the current international situation which is often aggressive and unfriendly to our country is justified, essential and without alternative’.
Relations between Russia and the West declined sharply in 2014 with Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and the subsequent conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The Kremlin has also accused NATO of expanding westwards and threatening Russian national security.
Moscow has increased the number of its large-scale military exercises in the Caucasus, the Baltic and the Arctic in recent years.
Russia’s previous military exercise in the region, Vostok-2014, was almost half the size, with 155,000 soldiers participating.
The country’s war games in Eastern Europe last year, Zapad-2017, saw 12,700 troops take part according to Moscow. Ukraine and the Baltic states said the true number was far bigger.
Russia has been preparing for the latest drills for weeks – at one point closing a road so planes could land near Khabarovsk, and firing missiles from land, surface and submarine at a target in the Sea of Okhotsk.
Putin’s range is awesome after a major modernisation of the creaking forces he inherited from the Soviet era.
Separately he has a large convoy in the Arctic and some 25 warships in the Mediterranean – the biggest deployment since the deployed forces in Syria three years ago.
Ahead of the games, Russian forces unleashed a devastating display involving synchronised launches from land, surface vessel and submarine hitting targets in the Sea of Okhotsk.
The live-fire exercise hit two drifting targets in the Sea of Okhotsk on Russia’s Pacific coast as Putin was on a trip to Siberia.
Four different types of cruise missile were used in the attack – Vulkan, Granit, Malakhit and Onyx.
They were fired from the missile cruiser Varyag – flagship of the Pacific fleet – as well as missile corvettes Razliv and Moroz, and the Tomsk nuclear powered submarine.
They were supported by the Bastion missile system fired from land.
The distance of the targets was between 155 and 310 miles.
‘All seven cruise missiles successfully hit the targets,’ said a statement from Russia’s eastern military district.
Earlier vehicles were halted on the Khabarovsk to Komsomolsk-on-Amur motorway to allow Su-30SM, Su-35S and MiG-31 pilots to test their landing and takeoff skills on the narrow road, according to local reports.
Military Mi-26 helicopters also swooped in to land on the highway, and an An-26 was seen touching down on the two-lane road.
Halted motorists filmed the amazing scenes as they got a grandstand view for the military exercise close to the Chinese border in the Russian Far East.