VLADIMIR Putin today vowed to strengthen his mighty army and supply it with even more weapons as he watched Russia’s biggest war games since the fall of the Soviet Union.
The Vostok 2018 drills – taking place in eastern Siberia close to the border with China – involve 300,000 Russian troops as well as joint exercises with the Chinese army.
“This is the first time our army and fleet have undergone such a difficult and large-scale test,” said President Putin.
The exercises, that involve over a thousand military aircraft as well as up to 36,000 tanks, come amid tense relations between Russia and the West that have fallen to a post-Cold War low.
Speaking at the Tsugol firing range about 80 miles north of the border with China, Putin said Russia was a peaceful country ready for cooperation with any state interested in partnership, but that it was a soldier’s duty to be ready to defend his country and its allies.
“Therefore we are going to further strengthen our armed forces, supply them with the latest generations of weapons and equipment, develop international military partnership,” he said.
The Chinese media have described the People’s Liberation Army involvement in the drills as the country’s largest-ever dispatch of forces abroad for war games.
Russia has said it is showcasing methods developed during its military intervention in Syria, giving Chinese forces – which haven’t fought in a war since 1979 – a glimpse of real combat skills.
The five-day mock battles involve more than DOUBLE the number of recruits currently in the entire British armed forces.
NATO has already condemned the war games as a rehearsal for “large-scale conflict” – and experts say they are without doubt the largest in modern Russian history.
“It fits into a pattern we have seen over some time – a more assertive Russia, significantly increasing its defence budget and its military presence,” warned an alliance spokesman.
The Russian army has compared the show of force to the USSR’s 1981 Zapad war games that saw around 150,000 Warsaw Pact soldiers take part in the largest military exercises of the Soviet era.
Yet the drills – to take place across several training grounds – will dwarf even this notorious exercise when it comes to scale.
Military leaders released video footage of military vehicles, planes, helicopters and ships getting into position for the initial stage of the drills.
The jaw-dropping numbers involved in the Vostok-2018 include:
- Around 300,000 battle-ready Russian troops.
- More than 1,000 planes, helicopters, and drones.
- 36,000 tanks and armoured personal carriers.
- More than 80 ships and naval support vessels.
- An estimated 30 aircraft from the Chinese air force.
- Mongolian troops will also join the battles.
- Russia has one million military personnel in total.
The Chinese claimed the vast operation was not “directed against any third party” and would focus purely on “defences, firepower strikes and counterattack.”
But close Putin ally Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defence minister, said the games would be at an “unprecedented scale both in territory and number of troops involved”.
He declared: “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.”
The manoeuvres are billed as testing the combat skills of the Russian land, air and naval forces.
Putin’s spokesman said last month that maintaining Russia’s defence capabilities is “justified, needed and has no alternative” as rival powers are “frequently quite aggressive and unfriendly”.
The Russian army is rolling out its latest weaponry – 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.
For weeks Russia has been preparing for the drills – 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.
The war games are underway at five ranges in the east of Russia, and in the waters of the Sea of Japan, Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk.
The deployment comes after an exercise last year in collaboration with Belarus in the west of the country which involved an announced 13,000 troops.
Putin has spent hundreds of billions in recent years carrying out 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 and 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.