Largest military exercise since cold war increases tensions
The largest Russian military exercise since the cold war was a simulated response to a “hypothetical attack by Japanese and US forces,” according to Konstantin Sivkov, a retired officer of the Russian military’s General Staff.
The wargames, which involved 130 combat aircraft, 70 ships, 5,000 tanks, 160,000 troops and 320 tons of equipment took place in Russia’s Far East near the border with China. The drill was the result of a “snap order” given by Vladimir Putin on Friday which tasked the Russian military to achieve full “combat readiness” in a short time frame.
“The Sakhalin part of the maneuvers was intended to simulate a response to a hypothetical attack by Japanese and US forces,” Konstantin Sivkov told BBC News.
The fact that the exercises targeted Japan is interesting given that Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force was forced to scramble jets to track the movement of two Russian bear bombers that flew near Japanese airspace and over the disputed Kuril Islands on Monday.
Although Russia denied that the drills were also aimed at China, independent Moscow-based military analyst Alexander Khramchikhin said that “the land part of the exercise is directed at China, while the sea and island part of it is aimed at Japan.”
Vladimir Putin, who personally witnessed the exercises, said he was proud of the outcome and that the drill displayed a “high degree” of combat readiness.
The sudden order that the drills take place in addition to the fact that they represent the largest such wargames since Soviet times has garnered relatively little press attention considering the unprecedented nature of the exercise.
With the US and Russia on the verge of a proxy war in Syria following Israel’s bombing of Russian weapons supplies earlier this month, tensions between the two superpowers are once again starting to simmer. America’s support for jihadist rebels has angered Russia, which firmly backs the Assad government and has a huge geopolitical stake in preventing its collapse.
The wargames took place amidst a Russian military build-up that has accelerated in recent years.
While the US military budget fell by 15% in 2013, Russia’s military expenditure is expected to soar nearly 60% over the next two years.
Back in May, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called on the nation’s defense industry to provide “state-of-the-art weapons superior to their Western analogs.”
Russia is currently engaged in the largest military build-up since the cold war, including the development of a new missile defense radar in southern Russia designed to counter missiles launched from Europe, as part of maneuvers which pose, “a strategic threat to the United States and NATO allies,” according to US military officials.
Russia is also working on a new generation of nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles called the Yars-M which “Russian officials say will be able to penetrate U.S. missile defenses.”