Russia’s ground forces: No return to large tank armies

A parade of armored units at Russia’s Tsugol training range
Zabaykalsky Krai, Sept. 13, 2018: Participants go on parade during the Vostok 2018 military maneuvers (source: dpa)
  • The Vostok-2018 maneuvers involved probably some 60,000 Russian troops, not 300,000 as Moscow has claimed
  • China’s participation in the exercises, held near its border, was not proof of a Beijing-Moscow military alliance
  • The configuration of the Russian ground forces reflects the country’s changing defense needs, not attack plans

For seven days in September 2018, Russia’s Eastern Military District staged what was billed as the country’s largest military drill since the peak of the Cold War in 1981. Code named Vostok 2018 (East 2018), the maneuvers were said to involve close to 300,000 men, 36,000 vehicles (including 900 tanks) and more than 1,000 aircraft.

Fears that Russia may be preparing for a war were enhanced by the participation of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which contributed 3,200 troops and 900 vehicles to the drill. The very thought of ever closer Sino-Russian military cooperation is disturbing to NATO. In a comment after the event, the dreaded word “alliance” was used.

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