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300,000 troops, 1,000 aircraft: Russia schedules biggest war games in almost 40 years

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (center). (The Kremlin)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has said the country is planning to hold its biggest military exercises since 1981 next month, Russian news agencies reported.

Shoigu was quoted as saying on August 28 that the drills, called Vostok (East)-2018, will take place in Russia’s central and eastern military districts and will involve almost 300,000 troops, more than 1,000 aircraft, both the Pacific and Northern Fleets, and all Russian airborne units.

“This is the biggest drill to take place in Russia since 1981,” Shoigu told reporters, according to the Interfax news agency.

He was referring to the massive Zapad (West)-81 military exercises, which involved Soviet and other Warsaw Pact military personnel.

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The Vostok-2018 exercises are set to be carried out from September 11 to September 15 with the participation of Chinese and Mongolian military personnel, Russian media have reported.

The maneuvers come as relations between Moscow and the West have deteriorated to a post-Cold War low over issues including 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.

When asked if the cost of holding such a massive military exercise was justified, 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.”

Meanwhile, NATO spokesman Dylan White said that Russia had briefed the alliance on the planned drills and that the alliance 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 e-mailed to the Reuters news agency.

The September 2017 war games in Belarus and parts of western Russia, dubbed Zapad 2017, triggered concerns in neighboring NATO nations already wary of Moscow’s intentions after its illegal annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and military interference in eastern Ukraine, where fighting between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces has killed more than 10,300 people since April 2014.

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.

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