Twenty-two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Red Army, they are back. This week under the watchful gaze of President Putin, the Russian military conducted the largest combined arms exercise in more than two decades. According to media reports, the maneuvers involved more than 150,000 troops and some 5,000 armored vehicles. In addition, dozens of warships and 130 warplanes took part. A major part of the exercise was the airlifting of thousands of troops from the Russian mainland to an offshore island.
The Russian military has been building to this level of sophisticated military maneuvers for a number of years. Over the past five years, it has been conducting increasingly complex exercises along its borders. It has also been running simulated nuclear strikes against NATO, Japan and even the U.S. homeland. Recently, the Russian government announced a plan to increase its inventory of ballistic and cruise missiles by a factor of five.
One of the more significant features of this exercise is that it was conducted in Siberia and the Far East, rather than in the West or even near the fractious Caucasus. This exercise could well reflect Moscow’s intention of instituting its own Asia-Pacific pivot. Russia has been cultivating security relations with China as well as the nations of Central Asia. Moscow and Beijing have an arms sale “axis” that is rapidly increasing the latter’s military capabilities.
Discussions in the United States over the implementation of the new defense strategy’s Asia-Pacific pivot may need to be revisited in light of Russia’s growing military power in this region. Assessments of the balance of forces in the region will probably have to be revised in light of Russian moves. So too will Pentagon assessments of the requirements for critical military capabilities such as the F-35, theater missile defense, attack submarines and long-range bombers.
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