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Russia will from Thursday commence the largest war games since the fall of the USSR. The exercises that will include China and Mongolia are planned to comprise more than 300,000 troops supported by around 80 ships, 1,000 aircraft, 36,000 tanks and armoured vehicles, and are expected to span five days. The exercises, dubbed Vostok 2018, were initiated by planning and preparation from Tuesday and have been described as” purely defensive” by Moscow in a time of ratcheted up tension with NATO.

Even though China contribution is modest with only 30 jets and helicopters, 900 tanks and 3,200 troops, the collaboration of the two military heavyweights and neighbours is sure to raise eyebrows in the West. Many see this as a demonstration of Russia’s willingness to work with Beijing as isolation and pressure from Europe and the United States forces it to seek new allies.

The Kremlin has traditionally viewed its wealthier Asian neighbour with mistrust and cooperation could signal a change in policy influenced by the sanctions regime imposed by America and Europe, an indication Russia is ready to cosy up to Beijing, Washington’s only real geopolitical rival in the 2st century. Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping met in Vladivostok where Putin assured the two countries dealings were built on trust “in the sphere of politics, security and defence”.

The West’s stance against Moscow has been decidedly hostile since the annexation of Crimea by Russia four years ago with NATO manoeuvring 4,000 troops closer to Russia’s border just last month in a move that was bashed by Putin.

The numbers have led to concerns about expenditure but the Kremlin was quick to justify the cost, (the biggest since the fall of the Soviet Union) with government spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stating that the country’s potential ability to defend itself in a hostile international situation meant the cost was justified

NATO has been informed of the games and will be observing the situation with its spokesman offering an assuaging tone by underlining that all nations have a right to exercise their armed forces though it is crucial that this is done in a transparent and predictable manner.

As expected there was a caveat, as he added that Vostok was proof of Russia’s intent on carrying out “large scale conflict” as a means of increasing its geopolitical influence