A drill mobilizing at least 300,000 troops, thousands of vehicles, fighter jets, and warships has gotten underway in Russia.

The military drill, dubbed “Vostok-2018” (East-2018), started on Tuesday in Russia’s Eastern Military District — a sparsely-populated area — close to its borders with China and Mongolia. It will run until September 17.

The exercise, described by Russia’s Defense Ministry as the country’s largest drills since the end of the Cold War, also incorporates contingents from China and Mongolia.

Images provided by the ministry showed columns of tanks, armored vehicles, and warships on the move and combat helicopters and fighter aircraft getting into position for the initial stage of the drill.

Russian fighter jets prepare to take off during a military exercise in the Chita region, Eastern Siberia, Russia, on September 11, 2018. (Photo via AP)

 

Some weapon systems will be showcased in the drill for the first time.

The Russian Airborne Troops will be deploying their freshly-supplied BMD-4M air-dropped infantry fighting vehicles and Patriot pickup trucks armed with Kornet anti-tank missiles for the first time during the drill.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has described the exercise as essential “in the current international situation, which is often aggressive and unfriendly toward our country.”

Some 3,500 Chinese troops and a small contingent of Mongolian soldiers will also take part in the military maneuver.

Russian President Vladimir Putin praised his country’s increasingly close ties with China as he met his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, on Tuesday.

As the commander-in-chief of Russia’s armed forces, Putin is expected to observe the exercises later this week.

President Putin is currently hosting world leaders, including President Xi, at the Russian-sponsored Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok on the Russian Pacific coast.

“We have trustworthy ties in political, security, and defense spheres,” said the Russian president.

The Chinese President, for his part, said that the two countries’ “friendship is getting stronger all the time.”

Chinese military vehicles are seen through a field in the Chita region, Eastern Siberia, during a joint military exercise with Russia, on September 11, 2018. (Photo via AP)

 

NATO, which has already condemned the drill as a rehearsal for “large-scale conflict,” said it would monitor the exercise closely, as will the United States, whose relations with both Moscow and Beijing have been fraying.

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Message to US, NATO?

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian, however, explained that the drill was not aimed at any third party and did not “have anything to do with the regional situation.”

“China’s participation is aimed at consolidating and further developing the comprehensive and strategic partnership of coordination between China and Russia,” Wu said.

Some observers, however, see the drill as a message to Washington and NATO, at a time of heightened tensions with both Beijing and Moscow.

“With its Vostok 2018 exercise, Russia sends a message that it regards the US as a potential enemy and China as a potential ally,” said Dmitri Trenin, a former Russian army colonel.

He said by sending its forces to train with Russia, China is also “signaling that US pressure is pushing it toward much closer military cooperation with Moscow.”

A retired Russian general also explained the massive drill as “a response to the US sanctions.”

“The maneuvers are aimed at deterring the aggressive intentions of the US and NATO,” Russian Interfax news agency quoted Leonid Ivashov as saying.

NATO has often held military maneuvers near Russia’s western borders, stationing advanced military hardware. It has also been trying to co-opt more countries from near Russia.

The US, which has a strong military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, dominates the 29-member NATO.

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