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International relations

Russia flaunts China ties with massive Far East war games

Neighbors draw closer in face of US military and trade pressure

Russian servicemen march during a military parade in the Chechen capital Grozny, Russia, in May 2017.   © Reuters

MOSCOW/BEIJING -- Russia is gearing up to carry out its biggest war games in nearly four decades, inviting China to showcase their growing military cooperation amid the countries' increasing friction with the U.S.

The Vostok-2018 exercises, slated for Sept. 11-15 in the Russian Far East, will be the country's largest since Soviet-era games in 1981, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday. They will take place in coastal areas like Sakhalin and Kamchatka, and likely extend into an area close to islands disputed by Moscow and Tokyo.

Russia will mobilize roughly 300,000 troops, more than 1,000 aircraft and about 36,000 tanks and armored vehicles, as well as its northern naval fleet. China will send a force of about 3,200 troops, 30 aircraft and 900 vehicles to join in exercises east of Siberia's Lake Baikal, near the borders with China and Mongolia.

The Russian government under President Vladimir Putin has worked to expand its influence in Asia and appears to be seeking a greater say in the North Korean situation and other affairs through stronger ties with China.

Such exercises are necessary considering the present unfriendliness toward Russia in the world, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday, adding that the participation by China indicates that Moscow and Beijing are expanding their cooperation.

China has joined Russia in joint drills in the Sea of Japan and East China Sea, for example, but it is rare for Chinese troops to take part in exercises within Russia's borders. Beijing's participation in September's drills comes after it was disinvited from this year's U.S.-led Rim of the Pacific exercises, and amid pressure from Washington on the military and trade fronts. Some speculate that Russia will join military exercises in China next year.

Russia stages large war games every year in one of its four military districts. In 2014, the last time the games took place in the east, Russian helicopters practiced maneuvers over the southernmost Kuril Islands, which Japan claims and calls the Northern Territories. The islands, located northeast of Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, were occupied by the Soviet Union following the end of World War II and are administered by Russia. This month, Russia has deployed fighters on a test basis to one of the islands, Iturup -- called Etorofu in Japanese -- in a move seen as preparation for next month's drills.

The drills will coincide with the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, set to take place Sept. 11-13. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping are both expected to attend the talks and speak with Putin.

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