Russia will hold its largest military exercise since the 1980s next month, with 300,000 Russian troops and 1,000 aircraft, NPR reports. Chinese and Mongolian troops will also take part in the exercise, known as Vostok-2018, or “East-2018.”
The five-day exercises on Russia’s eastern border are expected to start September 11. Its location suggests the practice is meant to demonstrate closer ties with China, The New York Times report.
“China was seen as the potential threat or target in exercises like Vostok,” Alexander Gabuev, a China expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center, told the Times, “but it is now being invited to join as a friend and even a quasi-ally. This is really unprecedented.”
Western ties with Russia have been strained among allegations surrounding attacks on former Russian spies, meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, and Russian interference in the Ukraine.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu compared the Vostok-2018 practices to those held during the Cold War when speaking to Russian media Tuesday.
“In some ways, they resemble the Zapad-81 drills,” said Shoigu, referencing the 1981 exercise considered to be the country’s largest. “But in other ways, they are, perhaps, even larger.”
A Russian spokesman said they feel they need to prepare in case of the need for defense, despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s friendly demeanor toward Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron, saying Monday he wants to evaluate security with all EU partners, including Russia.
“The country’s ability to defend itself in the current international situation, which is frequently quite aggressive and unfriendly toward us, is absolutely justified and has no alternative,” said Dmitri Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, according to the Times.