President Vladimir Putin will on Friday oversee massive military exercises as Russia stages a series of drills with China and other allies amid fresh tensions with the West.
The largest of these games, Caucasus-2020, kicked off in southern Russia this week and include land and naval exercises involving a total of 80,000 people including more than 12,000 troops.
China, Iran and Myanmar are taking part along with Armenia and Belarus. The Kremlin announced Putin will attend the drills on Friday.
“These exercises are the main annual test of the Russian armed forces’ readiness to engage in a large-scale conflict,” Vasily Kashin, a Moscow-based military analyst, told AFP.
The drills that last until Saturday and feature naval deployments on the Black Sea and the Caspian have been organised “for the top echelons of the military leadership”, he said.
According to the defence ministry, up to 250 tanks and around 450 infantry combat vehicles and armoured personnel carriers are taking part in the drills along with artillery systems and rocket launchers.
The Russian forces will test the TOS-2 heavy flamethrower systems first paraded through Moscow’s Red Square during Victory Day celebrations in June.
Putin has made reviving the army one of the top priorities of his 20-year rule.
After years of post-Soviet neglect, the armed forces received new aircraft, tanks and missiles, opened new bases in the Arctic and resumed Cold War-style strategic bomber patrols.
– A ‘springboard’ for attack –
Moscow has staged frequent large-scale military exercises in the Caucasus, the Baltic and the Arctic in recent years.
In 2018, Russia held what it has called its largest ever military drills, with 300,000 Russian troops joining Chinese soldiers in a show of force condemned by NATO.
Russia’s drills this autumn are also viewed as a show of support for Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko, who has faced unprecedented protests against his disputed re-election last month and was sworn in during a secret ceremony Wednesday.