CHITA (Russia) • Russia yesterday launched what it called its largest-ever military drills, with hundreds of thousands of troops taking part, along with Chinese soldiers, in a show of force Nato condemned as a rehearsal for "large-scale conflict".
President Vladimir Putin is expected to attend the games after hosting an economic forum in Russia's far eastern city of Vladivostok, where his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping is one of the prominent guests.
The week-long war games dubbed Vostok-2018 (East-2018) have kicked off in far eastern Russia, the defence ministry said.
Around 300,000 soldiers, 36,000 military vehicles, 80 ships and 1,000 aircraft, helicopters and drones are taking part in the drills.
Some 3,500 Chinese troops will also take part in the games.
Mr Putin praised Russia's increasingly close ties with China as he met Mr Xi at the economic forum in Vladivostok yesterday.
"We have trustworthy ties in political, security and defence spheres," he said.
Mr Xi, for his part, said the friendship between the two countries is "getting stronger all the time".
The military exercises come at a time of escalating tensions between Moscow and the West over accusations of Russian interference in Western affairs and conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.
The Russian army has compared the show of force to the 1981 war games involving between 100,000 and 150,000 Warsaw Pact soldiers in the largest military exercises of the Soviet era.
But Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said these exercises were even larger.
He added: "Imagine 36,000 military vehicles moving at the same time - tanks, armoured personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles. And all of this, of course, in conditions as close to a combat situation as possible."
The exercises will be held across nine training ranges and three seas - the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk.
The drills have been condemned by Nato as a rehearsal for large-scale conflict.
The alliance's spokesman Dylan White said late last month: "It fits into a pattern we have seen over some time - a more assertive Russia, significantly increasing its defence budget and its military presence."
Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed such concerns yesterday.
"These are very important drills, but they are part of routine annual work to develop the armed forces," he told journalists.