Helicopters take part in war games between Russia and Belarus near the town of Ruzhany, 235km southwest of Minsk in Sept 2017. A huge war drill will be stage in Russia's Far East next week. Photo: AFP / pool / Sergei Grits

Next week, from September 11 to 15, Russia will host the largest military exercise since 1981. Codenamed “Vostok (East) 2018”, it will take place in the Russian Far East.

According to a report today in The Interpreter, a website maintained by the Lowy Institute in Australia, the war games will involve nearly 300,000 troops, 1,000 aircraft and vessels from the Vladivostok-based Pacific Fleet — and the Northern Fleet, which is headquartered at Olenya Bay on the coast of the Barents Sea in European Russia. Some 900 tanks will also be mobilized for the exercise, according to a report in the New York Times on August 28.

China will participate for the first time in Russia’s Vostok exercises by sending helicopters and 3,200 troops, while Mongolia will send a smaller contingent.

The Pacific and Northern Fleets are equipped to carry nuclear weapons, which would mean that part of the exercise is to rehearse conditions for nuclear operations.

The Interpreter quotes Russian military analyst Vasily Kashin as saying that China’s participation “points to an open declaration of a Russo-Chinese military alliance.”

It is unclear who the presumed adversary would be in the upcoming war games but it is plausible to assume they are meant to counterbalance US presence in the Pacific, and Washington’s alliances with countries in the region, a threat perception which Moscow would share with Beijing.

Dylan White, a spokesman for NATO at its headquarters in Brussels, told Reuters that the focus of Vostok-2018 will be on “exercising large-scale conflict” and fitted the pattern of a “more assertive Russia” with a larger military budget.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry said on August 28 that Tokyo is “paying attention” to shifts in military cooperation between China and Russia.

The Interpreter looks at it in an even broader context, calling the exercise “a rehearsal for a large, even global war. And it would also show Moscow the extent of its capabilities to mobilize simultaneously and rapidly over great distances large combined forces, and even possibly joint forces with China.”

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