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As Russia Gears Up For Massive Military Exercises With China, NATO Reacts

By Vusala Abbasova September 4, 2018

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Russia has held Vostok exercises since 2010 as a way to check its ability to form large military formations, have them move quickly over large distances, and operate within unfamiliar terrain. / Zuma Press

Russia is about to launch the largest military drills conducted since the Cold War, and that has put NATO on edge.

Vostok 2018, also dubbed East 2018, will take place in the central and far eastern territories of Russia and include the participation of Chinese and Mongolian military forces. Last Tuesday the acting NATO Deputy Spokesman Dylan White called the exercises “a preparation for large-scale conflict.”

“All nations have the right to exercise their armed forces, but it is essential that this is done in a transparent and predictable manner,” the NATO representative expressed the alliance’s concerns about the upcoming Russian military exercises in his interview with Interfax.

White mentioned the NATO-Russia Council meeting that was held in May, when the two sides exchanged reciprocal briefings on upcoming military exercises.

“During the meeting, Russia informed us about its plans to [hold] Vostok-2018 exercises and noted that they would be larger than Vostok 2014,” White said. “We routinely monitor Russian exercises. We are doing the same with Vostok 2018.”

Russia has held Vostok exercises since 2010 as a way to check its ability to form large military formations, have them move quickly over large distances, and operate within unfamiliar terrain.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has said the exercises, which run from September 11-15, will involve almost 300,000 troops, more than 1,000 military aircraft, two Russian naval fleets, and all of its airborne units. Shoigu termed Vostok 2018 “the largest preparatory action for the armed forces since Zapad-81.”

“In some ways, they resemble the Zapad-81 drills but in other ways, they are, perhaps, even larger,” Shoigu said, comparing it with exercises during the Cold War.

China and Mongolia will take part in the large-scale exercises and send more than 3,000 servicemen, 30 helicopters and more than 900 pieces of other military hardware to the fields.  

“Just imagine that 36,000 pieces of military hardware are simultaneously in motion: These are tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles and all this is, naturally, checked in conditions close to a combat environment,” Shoigu said, according to TASS.

Some experts believe that the exercises have been organized to send a message to the west with regards to NATO’s increase of forces along Russia’s western borders. After the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis in 2014, NATO has been significantly expanding its military presence in Eastern Europe, using what it describes as Russian interference in Ukraine as a pretext for building up forces.

“The main task of Russia’s military exercises Vostok 2018 is the formation of a group of troops on the western borders of Russia to confront NATO,” the Ukrainian Military Expert Oleg Zhdanov told Channel 24. “Russia is trying to protect itself from the threat of NATO.”

Both Russian military expansion and China joining in the war games have heightened the already tense relationship with the U.S. On the one hand, the U.S. has been pursuing an anti-Russia policy, demonstrated with economic sanctions being imposed since the Ukrainian crisis in 2014; and on the other hand as Trump slaps tariffs on Chinese goods coming into the U.S.

Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called Chinese participation in Russian military exercises “the expansion of interaction of the two allies in all the spheres.” He also added that the holding the large-scale military exercises is absolutely justified amid the current international situation.

"The country’s defense capability in the current international situation, which is frequently quite aggressive and unfriendly for our country, is justified, needed and has no alternative," Peskov told reporters on Tuesday, according to TASS.

The Russian State Duma [parliament] called the Western countries “not to be afraid” of the maneuvers of the Vostok 2018 since they are aimed to strengthen the country’s military forces, and nothing more.