Report by Guerric Poncet in Le Point
Today, Tuesday September 11, Russia launches “Vostok 2018”, the largest military exercise in its history. It will cover the entire eastern territory, from eastern Siberia to the Far East, with 300,000 soldiers, 36,000 armored vehicles (tanks, troop transports, etc.), a thousand aircraft (planes, helicopters, drones) and 80 ships. Till now, the record for the largest Russian exercise was held by Zapad 1981, which mobilized between 100,000 and 150,000 Warsaw Pact soldiers in the midst of the Cold War. “There will be an air of Zapad-81, but more imposing,” said Sergei Shoigu, Russian Minister of Defense.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to take advantage of his presence at the Vladivostok Economic Forum to attend some of the maneuvers.
The last major exercise, Zapad 2017, had officially involved 12,700 soldiers. A figure just below the limit of 13,000 men beyond which Russia should have invited foreign observers. Border countries, however, had estimated that between 40,000 and 70,000 troops were deployed, and NATO had judged that this exercise, formally anti-terrorist, was in fact a “preparation for a major war with an enemy at parity”, i.e, a powerful force, and not some terrorist group.
Vostok 2018 will continue until September 17, and is officially intended to verify the readiness of the troops. All military components are involved (air, land, sea, conventional, nuclear, counter-terrorism, cyber, etc.), in the perspective of local or global conflicts.
China, which has been invited, is to send 3,500 troops, while Mongolia, also invited, has not specified its level of participation.
Beijing will have the opportunity to see the of some Russian high-tech equipment it has recently acquired, such as the S-400 air defense system or the Su-35 fighter in action, and the chance to take advantage of the experience gained in Syria by the troops of Moscow, who fight alongside the army of Bashar al-Assad while spying on every fact and gesture of the western forces more or less officially deployed in the region.
The Russians assure us that it is not a question of repeating a war with the Westerners. Moreover, the “bad guys” in the exercise will not wear a NATO uniform and will not speak English, says the Ministry of Defense.
But for the Atlantic Alliance, this pill does not go down. “This is part of a trend we have seen for a while: a Russia more sure of itself, which significantly increases its defense budget and its military presence,” said NATO spokesman Dylan White.