Russia said Monday it will launch sweeping military drills in the country’s east that will involve forces from China – a show of increasingly close defense ties between Moscow and Beijing amid tensions with the West over the Kremlin’s action in Ukraine.
The Russian Defense Ministry said that the Vostok 2022 (East 2022) exercise will be held September 1-7 in various locations in Russia’s Far East and the Sea of Japan and involve more than 50,000 troops, over 5,000 weapons units, including 140 aircraft and 60 warships.
The ministry released a video of Chinese troops arriving in Russa in preparation for the exercise.
The drills will be conducted at seven firing ranges in far eastern Russia and will engage troops from several ex-Soviet nations, China, India, Laos, Mongolia, Nicaragua, and Syria.
The ministry said that units of Russian Airborne troops, long-range bombers, and military cargo planes will take part in the drills along with other forces.
While first announcing the exercise last month, the Russian military emphasized that it is part of planned combat training that is continuing despite Moscow’s military action in Ukraine. It hasn’t disclosed the number of troops engaged in what the Kremlin calls the “special military operation” there.
The ministry noted that as part of the maneuvers, the Russian and Chinese navies in the Sea of Japan will “practice joint action to protect sea communications, areas of marine economic activity and support for ground troops in littoral areas.”
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Fomin specified that the naval drills would take part in the northern and central part of the Sea of Japan.
“The exercise isn’t directed against any specific countries or military alliances and is purely defensive,” Fomin said at a meeting with foreign military attaches.
The drills reflect increasing defense ties between Moscow and Beijing, which have grown stronger since Russia sent its troops into Ukraine on February 24. China has pointedly refused to criticize Russia’s action, blaming the U.S. and NATO for provoking Moscow, and has blasted punishing sanctions imposed on Moscow.
Russia, in turn, has strongly backed China amid the tensions with the U.S. that followed a recent visit to Taiwan by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Speaking earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin drew parallels between U.S. support for Ukraine and Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, charging that both were part of alleged U.S. efforts to foment global instability.
Russia and China have held a series of joint war games in recent years, including naval drills and patrols by long-range bombers over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea. Last year, Russian troops for the first time deployed to Chinese territory for joint maneuvers.
Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have developed strong personal ties to bolster a “strategic partnership” between the former Communist rivals as both Moscow and Beijing face increasing tensions with the West.
Even though Moscow and Beijing in the past rejected the possibility of forging a military alliance, Putin has said that such a prospect can’t be ruled out. He also has noted that Russia has been sharing highly sensitive military technologies with China that helped significantly bolster its defense capability.
India, which had deep-rooted defense ties to Russia, will also be participating in Vostok 2022. India has faced some criticism for its neutral stance toward the Ukraine war, motivated in part by New Delhi’s continuing dependence on Russian arms. India, however, has its own suspicions of the deepening China-Russia relationship and has been bolstering its defense ties with the United States in response.