Vostok 2018 drills involving 300,000 troops kick off in Russian Federation

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The five-day military exercise known as the Vostok-2018 drills in Russia's eastern and central military districts has mobilized nearly a third of the country's soldiers, making it the largest Russian or Soviet military exercise since 1981, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in a statement last month.

Vostok-2018 is taking place at a time of heightened tension between the West and Russian Federation, and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has said it will monitor the exercise closely, as will the United States which has a strong military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

Vostok 2018 comes amid increasing tensions between Moscow and the West over Russia's involvement in the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.

At sea, the Russian fleet is deploying several frigates equipped with Kalibr missiles that have been used in Syria.

The Russian military says the massive war games, known as Vostok-2018, are purely defensive in nature.

President Vladimir Putin is expected to attend Vostok-2018 after hosting an economic forum in Russia´s far eastern city Vladivostok where his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping is one of the star guests.

Taking part in the drills are around 300,000 Russian soldiers, 36,000 military vehicles, 80 ships and 1,000 aircraft, helicopters and drones, as well as 3,500 Chinese troops.

Zapad-81 Soviet war games were the largest exercises ever held back in 1981, with about 100,000 to 150,00 troops participating.

But Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the latest exercises are even larger.

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Beginning in eastern Siberia, the event has been compared to "Zapad-81" (West-81), the largest exercises of the Soviet era - though it is far larger.

"We have trustworthy ties in political, security and defence spheres", the Russian leader said.

But Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed such concerns.

"This is a very important exercise, but it is still part of the annual routine development of the Russian armed forces", he said.

Given the declining and increasingly acrimonious state of relations since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, Putin "wishes to be as best prepared as possible to prevail in open warfare as well", Giles added.

Moscow has increased the number of its large-scale military exercises in the Caucasus, the Baltic and the Arctic in recent years.

Last month, the Kremlin´s spokesman said Russia´s "ability to defend itself in the current worldwide situation which is often aggressive and unfriendly to our country is justified, essential and without alternative".

About 3,200 troops, along with over 1,000 pieces of weaponry and 30 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters from the People's Liberation Army (PLA)'s Northern Theater Command, are scheduled to conduct combat training together with the Russian troops from Tuesday to Thursday. Ukraine and the Baltic states said the true number was far bigger.

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