Russia flexes its military muscles in Siberia

Russia has started its biggest military exercises since the Soviet era, involving 160,000 troops and about 5,000 tanks across Siberia and the far eastern region in a massive show of strength.

Dozens of Russia’s Pacific Fleet ships and 130 combat aircraft also took part in the exercise, which continue throughout this week. President Vladimir Putin yesterday watched some of the drills on Sakhalin Island in the Pacific, where thousands of troops were ferried and airlifted from the mainland.

Russia’s deputy defence minister, Anatoly Antonov, assured foreign military attachés that the exercise was part of regular combat training and was not ­directed against any particular nation, though some analysts believe the show of force is aimed at China and Japan.

Russia and Japan are currently in dispute over a group of Pacific islands, which Russia calls the Kurils and Japan calls the Northern Territories.

Mr Antonov said that Russia had warned its neighbours about the exercise before it started, and provided particularly detailed information to China, in line with an agreement that envisages a mutual exchange of data about military activities along their 2,700-mile border.

The Cold War-era rivals have forged what they have described as a “strategic partnership” since the 1991 Soviet Union collapse, developing close political, economic and military ties in a shared aspiration to counter US power around the world.

Russia has supplied sophisticated weapons to China, and the neighbours have conducted joint military drills, most recently a naval exercise in the Sea of Japan earlier this month.

But many in Russia have felt increasingly uneasy about the growing might of China.

Russia and China had territorial disputes for centuries. Relations between Communist China and the Soviet Union ruptured in the 1960s, and the two fought a brief border conflict in 1969. But Moscow and Beijing signed a new border treaty in 2004, which saw Russia yielding control over several islands in the Amur River. Some in Russia’s sparsely populated far east feared that the concessions could tease China’s appetite.

Alexander Khramchikhin, an independent Moscow-based military analyst, said the massive exercise held in the areas along the border with China was clearly aimed at Beijing. He said: “It’s quite obvious that the land part of the exercise is directed at China, while the sea and island part of it is aimed at Japan.”

Mr Khramchikhin, who recently posted an article online painting a grim picture of Russia being quickly routed in a surprise Chinese attack, said that the war games were intended to discourage China from harbouring expansionist plots.

“China may now think that Russia has finally become more aware of what could happen,” he commented.

Full article: Russia flexes its military muscles in Siberia (Scotsman)

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