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20 Aug, 2018 21:04

Russia to hold biggest military drills since Soviet times – Defense Minister

Russia to hold biggest military drills since Soviet times – Defense Minister

Russia is preparing to hold the largest military exercises in decades. The drills, in which China and Mongolia will participate as well, will be of an “unprecedented” scale, the Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said.

A series of drills, which will hold a joint title ‘Vostok-2018’ will take place in Russia’s Siberia and Far East and will be “of unprecedented scale when it comes both to geographical coverage and to the total number of troops and forces taking part in it,” the Russian defense minister added.

Shoigu said that the drills will be bigger than the biggest training exercise in Soviet history, held back in 1981 on the territory of Belarus, Ukraine, three Baltic republics as well as some countries of the Warsaw Pact.

The total number of troops that are expected to take part in the drills has not been revealed yet. China has already confirmed that it will send over 3,000 troops to join the Russian forces during the drills, however. More than 900 pieces of military hardware as well as 30 warplanes and helicopters will also be deployed to Russia as part of the exercise, the Chinese Defense Ministry said.

The forthcoming drills are apparently poised to exceed the scale of the Zapad-2017 exercises, which Russia staged last year, provoking an excessively nervous reaction in the West. Those drills – which involved some 12,700 troops, 70 military aircraft, 10 ships and some 680 ground vehicles – sparked accusations that Russia had surpassed the declared number of troops participating, and even more alarming claims that the drills were cover for an “invasion” of neighboring countries.

The Zapad war games, despite their defensive nature, were widely used by NATO officials and the media to fuel the “Russian aggression” narrative and to further justify NATO’s buildup in Eastern Europe. In response to the drills, Poland hosted the so-called “national” Dragon 17 exercises, involving contingents from the US, the UK, Germany, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, Italy, Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia and Ukraine. Notably, the number of troops involved in Dragon 17 by far exceeded those of the Zapad-2017 contingent, with some 17,000 servicemen and 3,500 hardware pieces involved.

NATO also continues to intensify its own military drills on Russia’s doorstep. In June, more than 18,000 soldiers from 19 countries took part in the two-week ‘Saber Strike’ exercise held in Poland and the Baltic States. On Monday, Latvia launched the biggest military exercise ever staged since it gained independence. The drills also involve troops from more than a dozen of other NATO states.