- The exercises will include some foreign forces, according to the defence ministry, without specifying which countries.
- The same number of deaths as the Soviet army suffered during a decade of war in Afghanistan beginning in 1979, and three times that number may have been wounded.
Russia plans to hold strategic military exercises in the country’s east beginning next month, the defence ministry announced on Tuesday, thousands of miles away from the conflict in Ukraine.
The “Vostok” (East) exercises will be held from August 30 to September 5. They appear to be intended to send a message that, despite the costly five-month war in Ukraine, Russia remains focused on the defence of its entire territory and capable of maintaining “business as usual” militarily.
However, given Moscow’s heavy losses in men and equipment in Ukraine, including troops and equipment sent there from the eastern military district where the war games will take place, this may prove difficult.
“A lot of troops and equipment from the eastern MD (military district) have already been deployed, rotated, lost, and killed in Ukraine since February,” said Mathieu Boulegue, a military specialist at London’s Chatham House think tank.
The defence ministry stressed in a statement that its ability to stage such drills was unaffected by its “special military operation” in Ukraine.
It stated that Russia had not cancelled any training activities or international cooperation, and that the exercises would be fully staffed, armed, and equipped.
“We draw your attention to the fact that only a portion of the Russian Federation’s Armed Forces is involved in the special military operation (in Ukraine), the number of which is more than sufficient to carry out all of the tasks assigned by the Supreme Commander-in-Chief,” the statement said.
According to CIA Director William Burns, the US estimates that 15,000 Russian troops have been killed in Ukraine since February, the same number of deaths as the Soviet army suffered during a decade of war in Afghanistan beginning in 1979, and three times that number may have been wounded.
The eastern military district encompasses a portion of Siberia and is headquartered in Khabarovsk, close to the Chinese border. The exercises will include some foreign forces, according to the defence ministry, without specifying which countries.
Previous Vostok drills in 2018 were massive in scale, with nearly 300,000 troops reported to be involved, including for the first time the Chinese army.
The extent to which China participates this year will provide important clues about the state of bilateral relations as Putin attempts to court Beijing at a time of heightened confrontation between Russia and the West.