MOSCOW - Russia is holding major military exercises involving China and India as President Vladimir Putin pushes back against attempts by the US and its allies to isolate him over his invasion of Ukraine.
More than 50,000 troops and 5,000 pieces of military equipment, including more than 140 aircraft and 60 warships, are due to take part in the week-long Vostok-2022 war games that start on Thursday in Russia's far east, including naval drills in the Sea of Japan or East Sea.
The regular exercises bring together member states and partners of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation of former Soviet republics.
Even as the US is wooing India as a defence partner and urging it not to undermine international sanctions on Russia over the war in Ukraine, the New Delhi government is sending a small 75-strong military detachment to the army drills. They include Gurkha troops and representatives from the navy and air force, though India isn't dispatching naval or air assets to Russia.
India, which has previously attended the exercises, has avoided taking sides over Russia's war in Ukraine, partly because of its reliance on Moscow as its main weapons supplier amid persistent border tensions with neighbouring China and Pakistan.
Still, the south Asian nation voted against Russia on the issue for the first time in a procedural vote last week at the United Nations Security Council that allowed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to address the body via video link.
India has also shelved moves to jointly produce helicopters and put on hold another plan to buy about 30 fighters from Russia.
The Defence Ministry in Beijing said China's army, air and naval forces are taking part in the drills, which aim to strengthen military coordination. The Chinese Communist Party-backed Global Times said the exercises this year will focus on possible threats, especially from the US in the Pacific region.
China has refused to criticise Russia for its six-month-long invasion of Ukraine and condemned US and European sanctions against Moscow. But it has steered clear of siding with Putin by providing technology and military supplies for Russia's war effort because of the risk of US secondary sanctions.
The Chinese role in the drills "cannot be seen as support" for Russia over the conflict, said Vasily Kashin, a Russian military expert at Moscow's Higher School of Economics. "It just shows us that the military-to-military ties are going on as usual."
Russia's ally Belarus is also taking part in Vostok-2022 along with the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Tajkistan and other states including Syria, Algeria, Mongolia, Laos and Nicaragua. BLOOMBERG