Russia to stage largest war games since Cold War

August 28, 2018 GMT

Russia plans to stage its biggest war games in nearly four decades in a massive military exercise including the Chinese and Mongolian armies, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday according to multiple Russian news agencies.

The exercise, Vostok-2018 (East-2018), will occur next month at military ranges in central and eastern Russia and involve almost 300,000 troops, over 1,000 military aircraft, two of Russia’s naval fleets, and all of Russia’s airborne units, Mr. Shoigu was quoted as saying.

The games will unfold amid rising tensions between the West and Russia, especially over what Moscow claims is an unjustified build-up of NATO troops on Russia’s western flank. Since Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, NATO has increased forces in eastern Europe to deter more Russian military action.

On Tuesday, NATO spokesman Dylan White was quoted as saying that Russia had briefed the alliance in May on the planned exercise and that NATO planned to monitor it.

“All nations have the right to exercise their armed forces, but it is essential that this is done in a transparent and predictable manner,” Mr. White said in a statement e-mailed to the Reuters news agency.

Mr. Shoigu compared the Vostok-2018 war games to a Soviet maneuver in 1981 named Zapad-81 (West-81), which involved a pretend attack on Nato. The Vostok-2018 games, he said, will occur from Sep. 11-15.

“In some ways they will repeat aspects of Zapad-81, but in other ways the scale will be bigger,” Mr. Shoigu told reporters while visiting the Russian region of Khakassia, according to Russian media.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was asked by Russian journalists if the cost of such a massive military exercise was justified given the rising spending on social programs across the country.

“The country’s ability to defend itself in the current international situation, which is often aggressive and unfriendly towards our country, means (the exercise) is justified and essential,” Mr. Peskov said on a conference call.

Military analysts have suggested that in addition to NATO concerns, Japan could be worried by the games, given recent complaints from Tokyo over what it says is a Russian military build-up in the Far East nearby the strategically crucial Russian port of Vladivostok.

In May, Washington excluded China from the world’s largest naval war games the 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises a yearly set of exercises held in the Pacific that regularly includes more than two dozen nations.

The announcement came from the Department of Defense and cited China’s continued militarization of the South China Sea as the reason.