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Russia's military has said that upcoming, massive war games scheduled for next week are purely defensive in nature and are not directed against any other countries, local news agencies reported Thursday.
Military training exercises, known popularly as "war games," are set to take place in central and eastern Russia between September 11 and 17. They are reported to be the biggest such drills that Russia has ever carried out.
As many as 297,000 troops are to take part in the Vostok 2018 exercises, news agency Interfax said. These will also involve 36,000 tanks, armored personnel carriers and other vehicles, as well as over 1,000 planes, helicopters and drones, and 80 ships and supply vessels.
Vostok 2018 will see the Russian military practice massive airstrikes and measures against cruise missiles.
"The maneuvers are not directed against other countries and are in line with our military doctrine, which is defensive in character," Valery Gerasimov, the chief of Russia's general staff, told a briefing for foreign military attaches in Moscow, Interfax said, according to Reuters.
Despite assurances, the exercises come at a tense time for Russia's relations with the rest of the world, particularly in light of allegations of meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, claims Moscow was responsible for a nerve agent attack in the U.K., and its controversial military role in Syria.
Previous military exercises by Russia carried out on its western borders have riled its neighbors but this year, the exercises will be concentrated in the central, Siberian and eastern regions ('Vostok' means 'East' in Russian), towards its China border. A small number of Chinese troops are said to be participating in the exercises too.
Chief of Staff Gerasimov said that the "the main purpose of Vostok 2018 is to test the level of combat preparedness of troops." He added, however, that the "opposing" states in the exercises will be purely hypothetical.
Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu gave more details about Vostok 2018 on Tuesday, saying exercises would be held across nine testing grounds, including four Aerospace Force and Air Defense grounds, and three seas: the Sea of Japan, Bering Sea and Okhotsk Sea, news agency TASS reported.
Participating forces are already practicing ahead of the exercises, he said. "Aircraft have been flying maximum range sorties with refueling in flight and practicing landings at tactical airfields. Naval ships have been performing combat maneuvering and firing practices."