Hundreds of thousands Russian troops swept across Siberia on Tuesday in the nation's largest ever war games also joined by China — a powerful show of burgeoning military ties between Moscow and Beijing amid their tensions with the US.
Moscow said the weeklong Vostok (East) 2018 maneuvers will span vast expanses of Siberia and the Far East, the Arctic and the Pacific Oceans and involve nearly 300,000 Russian troops — nearly one-third of the country's 1-million-strong military. They will feature more than 1,000 aircraft, about 36,000 tanks and other military vehicles and 80 warships.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has described the drills as even bigger than the country's largest Cold War-era exercise called Zapad 1981 that put NATO allies on edge.
China is sending about 3,200 troops, 900 combat vehicles and 30 aircraft to join the drills at a Siberian firing range, a significant deployment that reflects its shift toward a full-fledged military alliance with Russia. Mongolia also has sent a military contingent.
As the maneuvers kicked off, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Russia on Tuesday to attend an economic forum in Vladivostok. President Vladimir Putin treated Xi to pancakes with caviar and shots of vodka in a show of their warm rapport.
Moscow and Beijing have forged what they described as a "strategic partnership," expressing their shared opposition to the "unipolar" world, the term they use to describe perceived US global domination. However, the military drills they had until now were far smaller in scale, reflecting China's caution about alliances.