The last time that Russia mounted a military exercise the size of this week’s Vostok 2018 event, “Russia” was the Soviet Union, Leonid Brezhnev was General Secretary, and Ronald Reagan had just been elected president of the United States. That was 1981, at the height of the Cold War. Now, with a distinct chill in relations with the United States well underway, the Russian Federation has put over 300,000 troops in the field—alongside tens of thousands of tanks, helicopters, and weapons of every sort—for a huge war game in Russia’s far eastern reaches.
Vostok 2018 wrapped up on September 14, but it started a whole new wrinkle in international affairs. Russia and China have agreed to continue to conduct joint military exercises, as the interests of Russia and China (once far apart) begin to align in response to US military power and a bellicose President Donald Trump. The photos provided by the Russian Ministry of Defense illustrate a military bromance. Presidents Putin and Xi had a breakfast of blinis together in Vladivostok.
To calm nervous Europeans, the Russian Foreign Ministry reassured everyone that they were not pretending to fight NATO. “In the exercise, the Russian forces playing the role of an opponent never use NATO uniform or weapons or selected English-speaking personnel, contrary to NATO’s frequent practice of using Russian speakers wearing Soviet or Russian uniforms and armed with Russian weapons and equipment to impersonate a likely enemy,” Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister, Colonel General Alexander Fomin said. “Aware of how sensitive this aspect is and being open-hearted as we are, we will stick to our customary mode of action further on.”
Russia test-fired two Iskander short-range ballistic missiles during the maneuvers, and, if you believe Pravda, tested invisible missiles.
But not everything at Vostok 2018 may have gone off completely without a hitch:
How is your week going ??pic.twitter.com/NNDjM0lOpy
— Fighter-pictures (@fighterpics) September 13, 2018
Vostok 2018 gave the world a chance to get a look at some of the weapons that have been getting some use in Syria and eastern Ukraine. And it showed that Russia no longer sees China as an adversary but as a potential military ally, something that is sure to get NATO’s (and Washington’s) attention.