Russia's "Nuclear Combat" War Games Largest In Nearly 40 Years

Russia's upcoming joint military exercise with China and Mongolia, set for September 11 - 15, will be the largest Russian drill in nearly 40 years according to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who said they will be larger than the Soviet military's 1981 Zapad-81 (West-81) exercises. 

"In some ways they will repeat aspects of Zapad-81, but in other ways the scale will be bigger," Shoigu told reporters from the Russian region of Khakassia. 

The exercise, Vostok-2018 (East-2018), will occur in central and eastern Russian military districts, and will involve nearly 300,000 troops, over 1,000 military aircraft, two of Russia's naval fleets, and their entire airborne forces, Shoigu said in a Tuesday statement. 

"Imagine 36,000 armored vehicles — tanks, armored personnel carriers and armored infantry vehicles — moving and working simultaneously, and that all this, naturally, is being tested in conditions as close as possible to military ones," said Shoigu. 

Also included in the drills, as we mentioned Friday, will be the inclusion of simulated nuclear weapons attacks

And according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP) the People's Liberation Army (PLA) will participate by sending about 3,200 elite forces troops, along with 30 fix-wing aircraft and helicopters to the Russian-hosted exercises. 

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is scheduled to attend a forum in the Russian city of Vladivostok during the exercises, according to Reuters, while a Japanese Foreign Minister official said on Tuesday that Tokyo is monitoring developments between Beijing and Moscow. 

The war games, which will take place from Sept. 11-15, are likely to worry Japan, which has already complained about a Russian military build-up in the Far East, something Moscow has linked to Tokyo’s roll-out of the Aegis U.S. missile system. -Reuters

The SCMP cites one Beijing based military expert, Zhou Chenming, to explain that the PLA is seeking to gain greater military experience as its last major combat theater stretches all the way back to the Vietnam War. 

Additionally, Zhou told the SCMP“China also wants to show its support for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is facing various diplomatic challenges, especially criticism from the US Secretary of State [Mike Pompeo] over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.” The Chinese military expert further cited that the games' site location was chosen carefully and deliberately with this in mind. 

Putin wants to use the Russian military’s war games with the PLA to show its military muscle, but he doesn’t want to irritate the United States too much and raise the possibility of a misjudgment by the Trump administration, so he chose the less sensitive Trans-Baikal region in the Far East, far from US allies in Europe,” Zhou said.

In response to the impending Vostok-18 games Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said"We urge Russia to take steps to share information regarding its exercises and operations in Europe to clearly convey its intentions and minimize and potential misunderstanding."

NATO spokesman Dylan White said that Russia had briefed the alliance on the planned exercise in May and that NATO would monitor it. Russia had invited military attaches from NATO countries based in Moscow to observe the war games, an offer he said was under consideration.

“All nations have the right to exercise their armed forces, but it is essential that this is done in a transparent and predictable manner,” White said in an emailed statement. -Reuters

“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.”

NATO and its allies, meanwhile, began two weeks of drills in Latvia last Monday and which are scheduled to run through September 2. 

“After four years of intensive preparations, this will be the largest military training exercise since the restoration of Latvia’s independence in which we will test the armed forces’ readiness to defend Latvia from any threats,” said Latvian Chief of Defense, Lieutenant General Leonids Kalnins.

“This exercise is the opportunity to train not only the National Armed Forces but also Latvia’s overall defense capabilities as our partners are involved in the drills as well,” he continued.

Apart from the Latvian Armed Forces, National Guard, law enforcement and volunteers, the drills would also involve troops from more than a dozen of other NATO states, including the US, Canada, Spain, Italy and Poland as well as other Baltic States. The total number of troops participating in the drills amounts to 10,000, local media reported.

The Latvian army released a promo video for the drills last Monday.