Joined by China and India, Russia Begins Large-Scale Military Exercise in Far East

Dimitri Simes | September 1, 2022 | 5:22pm EDT
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President Vladimir Putin and chief of the Russian general staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov observe a previous Vostok joint exercise, near the Chinese border in Siberia in 2018. (Photo by Alexey Nikolsky/AFP ia Getty Images)
President Vladimir Putin and chief of the Russian general staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov observe a previous Vostok joint exercise, near the Chinese border in Siberia in 2018. (Photo by Alexey Nikolsky/AFP ia Getty Images)

Moscow ( – With China and India among the participants, Russia has kicked off a large-scale military exercise in northeast Asia, even as the conflict in Ukraine rages on.

The Vostok-2022 exercise, which began on Thursday and runs through September 7, features more than 50,000 troops along with thousands of units of military hardware, including aircraft and warships, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

Drills are being held at seven training grounds in Russia’s far east, and in the Sea of Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan. The exercise is being personally commanded by Russia’s Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov.

China dispatched more than 2,000 troops and 300 units of military hardware to join the exercise. The state-run Global Times newspaper says it is the first time China has sent all three of its armed services – army, navy, and air force – to participate in a Russian exercise.

The Indian Defense Ministry has not publicly revealed the size of its military contingent at Vostok-2022, although some media reports have put the number at 75 troops.

In addition to China and India, 11 other countries are participating in the exercise to varying degrees, including Nicaragua, Algeria, Laos, Mongolia, Syria’s Assad regime, and Russia’s longtime allies in the post-Soviet space.

“The exercise is not directed against any specific states or military alliances and is purely defensive in nature," Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said during a briefing for foreign military attachés on Monday.

On day one of the exercises, troops rehearsed countering a mock invasion by an unnamed enemy. Videos published by the Russian Defense Ministry showed tanks maneuvering across an open field and fighter jets flying an air patrol mission.

For the naval portion of the exercise, Russian and Chinese warships will “conduct rocket and artillery firing at surface and air targets, practice actions to repel air attack weapons, search for and destroy enemy submarines” in the Sea of Okhotsk and Sea of Japan, according to the ministry.

Vostok-2022 is taking place amid a new round of heavy fighting in Ukraine. Earlier this week, the Ukrainian military launched a major counteroffensive in the southern Kherson region, which fell to Russian forces in the early days of the conflict. The two sides are also locked in a months-long war of attrition for control of the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.

India’s participation in the Russian exercise has raised some eyebrows, given the Ukraine situation and New Delhi’s growing security partnership with the U.S., including through the Quad. Asked about this during a press gaggle earlier this week, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said “the United States has concerns about any country exercising with Russia while Russia wages an unprovoked, brutal war against Ukraine.”

However, she declined to say whether the Biden administration would take any actions against countries taking part in Vostok-2022.

India has emphasized that it regularly conducts multilateral military drills not just with Russia, but with other countries as well. (Indian and U.S. special forces recently completed joint drills near the disputed India-China border.)

Meanwhile China’s security relationship with Russia has deepened in recent years. The defense ministry in Beijing said earlier China’s decision to participate in Vostok-2022 had “nothing to do with the current international and regional situation.”

Both China and India have called for an end to the conflict in Ukraine, but have also refused to join Western-led efforts to isolate Russia politically and economically.

Trade between the two Asian powers and Russia has grown significantly in recent months as both countries moved to buy up heavily-discounted Russian oil, coal, and gas. At the same time, the mass exodus of Western, Japanese, and South Korean brands from the Russian market has presented some Chinese and Indian companies with an opportunity to step in to fill the void.

Beijing and New Delhi have also signaled that they intend to continue their military cooperation with Russia. In addition to Vostok-2022, China and Russia have conducted three other joint military exercises in Northeast Asia since the start of the Ukraine conflict.

On May 24, the two countries flew a bomber patrol over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea. They later held two naval drills near Japanese waters in mid-June and early July.

Last month, China and India both sent delegations to the Russian Defense Ministry’s annual weapons exposition in Moscow.

Russia has consistently ranked as the largest arms supplier to both countries, according to the Stockholm Peace Research Institute, a Swedish think tank that specializes in global arms transfers.


See earlier story:

State Dep’t on India Taking Part in Russia Wargames: It Takes Time to ‘Reorient Foreign Policy’ (Aug. 18, 2022)

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