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13 September 2018, 01:31 | Erica Roy
Russia launches largest military drill since Cold War
The week-long exercise dubbed "Vostok-2018" also includes the Mongolian army.
While both Russian Federation and China have said the manoeuvres are not directed against other countries they do coincide with Nato's Rapid Trident 2018 military exercise in Ukraine, which started on September 3 and ends on Saturday.
Relations between Moscow and Beijing have always been marked by mutual wariness, with Russian nationalists warning of encroaching Chinese influence in the nation's mineral-rich far east, but Russia pivoted east toward China after the West sanctioned Moscow over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and trade links between the two, who share a land border more than 4,200km long, have blossomed since.
However, the military drills they had until now were far smaller in scale, reflecting China's caution about alliances.
"China, by sending a PLA [People's Liberation Army] element to train with the Russians, is signaling that USA pressure is pushing it towards much closer military cooperation with Moscow".
Russia's biggest-ever war games Vostok-2018 "have kicked off" in far eastern Russian Federation.
"We have trustworthy ties in political, security and defence spheres", the Russian leader said.
The location of the main training range for Vostok-2018 - about 3,000 miles east of Moscow - means it is likely to also be watched closely by Japan, North and South Korea as well as by Mongolia, which will send some of its own troops to take part.
Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said the shift away from anti-terrorism drills to more conventional war games could pave the way for greater cooperation between China and Russian Federation.
He said that an increasingly unpredictable geopolitical climate made partnership between Russian Federation and China particularly important.
"These are very important drills but they are part of routine annual work to develop the armed forces", he told journalists.
"Imagine 36,000 military vehicles moving at the same time: tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles - and all of this, of course, in conditions as close to a combat situation as possible", Shoigu said.
Forces from 10 member nations are taking part in the drills amid an ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russia-backed separatists.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov argued the exercises were "justified" in "the current global situation" given "aggressive and unfriendly" attitudes towards Russian Federation.
Part of Russia's response has been to increase the number of large-scale military exercises across the globe in an apparent bid to project power and ward off perceived Western aggression.
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