MOSCOW: Russia on Thursday launched weeklong war games involving forces from China and other nations in a show of growing defense cooperation between Moscow and Beijing as they both face tensions with the United States.
The maneuvers are also intended to demonstrate that Moscow has sufficient military might for massive drills even as its troops are engaged in military action in Ukraine.
The Russian defense ministry said the Vostok 2022 (East 2022) exercise would be held until September 7 at seven firing ranges in Russia's Far East and the Sea of Japan and involve more than 50,000 troops and over 5,000 weapons units, including 140 aircraft and 60 warships.
Gen. Valery Gerasimov, Russia's General Staff chief, will personally oversee the drills that will involve troops from several ex-Soviet nations, China, India, Laos, Mongolia, Nicaragua and Syria.
The ministry said that, as part of the maneuvers, Russian and Chinese navies in the Sea of Japan would "practice joint action to protect sea communications, areas of marine economic activity and support for ground troops in littoral areas."
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The drills showcase increasing defense ties between Moscow and Beijing, which have grown stronger since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his troops into Ukraine on February 24. China has pointedly refused to criticize the invasion blaming the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for provoking Russia, and has blasted punishing sanctions imposed on Moscow.
Russia, in turn, has strongly backed China amid the tensions with Washington that followed US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan early last month. Putin has drawn parallels between US support for Ukraine and Pelosi's trip, describing them both as part of alleged efforts by Washington to foment global instability.
Alexander Gabuyev, a political analyst who closely follows Russia-China ties, noted that "it's very important for Beijing to show to the US that it has levers to pressure America and its global interests."
"The joint maneuvers with Moscow, including the naval drills, are intended to signal that if the pressure on Beijing continues it will have no other choice but to strengthen the military partnership with Russia," he said. "It will have a direct impact on the interests of the US and its allies, including Japan."
He noted that the Kremlin, for its part, wants to show that the country's military is powerful enough to flex its muscle elsewhere despite the campaign in Ukraine.
"The Russian leadership demonstrates that everything goes according to plan and the country and its military have resources to conduct the maneuvers along with the special military operation," the analyst said.
The exercise continues a series of joint war games by Russia and China 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.
China's participation in the drills "aims to deepen pragmatic and friendly cooperation between the militaries of the participating countries, enhance the level of strategic cooperation among all participating parties, and enhance the ability to jointly respond to various security threats," Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Tan Kefei said last week.
Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have developed strong personal ties to bolster a "strategic partnership" between the former Communist rivals as they both are locked in rivalry with the US.
Even though Moscow and Beijing in the past rejected the possibility of forging a military alliance, Putin has said such a prospect can't be ruled out. He has also noted that Russia has been sharing highly sensitive military technologies with China that helped significantly bolster its defense capability.