Russian Federation holds biggest military drills since Soviet era

China is planning to join the Russian military exercises for the first time, sending 3,200 troops to take part in the drills.

Russian Federation will showcase some of its latest military hardware at Vostok-2018, including nuclear-capable Iskander missiles T-90 tanks and Su-35 fighter jets.

Moscow said the weeklong Vostok (East) 2018 maneuvers will span vast expanses of Siberia and the Far East, the Arctic and the Pacific Oceans and involve almost 300,000 Russian troops - almost one-third of the country's 1-million-strong military. "I see little in the long term that aligns Russian Federation and China".

Giles said Moscow's foreign policy decisions are "driven by delusions" such as the notion "Russia matters" and "hostile powers" are lining up to invade the country.

Some experts pointed out the USA helped spawn closer Russia-China military ties by labelling them strategic competitors.

"They feel they need to embrace to deal with the increasingly high pressure and containment from the US", said Yue Gang, a military expert and retired Chinese army colonel.

The Russian 9K720 Iskander missile system carrier.

The last war games in Vostok were in 2014 but were nearly half of the size with 155,000 soldiers taking part.

"The war games have laid a foundation for China and Russian Federation to enhance cooperation on global arena and will lift the combat proficiency of both sides", he said.

Some noted that the People's Liberation Army, which hasn't fought a war since the attempted invasion of Vietnam in 1979, is keen to learn from Russia's experience in the Syrian campaign, where it tested its latest weapons and tactics. "If Russia had not invited China, that would have been viewed by Beijing as a potentially unsafe activity by Russia".

Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military commentator, said Beijing, which regards the defence of its sovereignty over most of the South China Sea and the self-ruled island of Taiwan as core interests, needed to strengthen its capabilities in preparation for possible real-life military conflicts.

Considering Russia's recent behaviour, Europe and the U.S. could be forced into a position where war becomes inevitable, he said.

While simulating a great power conflict, experts say the drills do not mean Russian Federation is preparing to fight with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation rather, some say, Moscow is using the war games as a form of aggressive diplomacy, meant to impress and intimidate western countries and to persuade them to be more accommodating of Russia's interest.

"The [Vostok 2018] exercise sends a signal to Washington and its allies - if United States continues to push [Russia and China], they will have to deepen military ties", he said.

"They demonstrate the seriousness of our intentions", General Ivashov said.

Given the close proximity, the invitation of the Chinese and Mongolian militaries to take part is likely to be a diplomatic as much as a strategic move on the part of the Russians, given the fact that the massive scale of the exercises would have been seen as a threat had they not been involved.

"We're obviously aware of it, we're watching it closely", said Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman.

It fits into a pattern we have seen over some time: "a more assertive Russian Federation, significantly increasing its defense budget and its military presence".

Vladimir Isachenkov reported from Moscow.

Vanessa Coleman

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