Russia kicks off biggest war games in decades, amid tensions

Russian military helicopters fly, in the Chita region, Eastern Siberia, during the Vostok 2018 exercises in Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service pool photo /AP)
Updated 11 September 2018
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Russia kicks off biggest war games in decades, amid tensions

  • The largest military drills since the end of the Cold War will involve about 36,000 tanks and 300,000 troops at sea and on the ground
  • The war games are held a year after Russia staged major drills in the country’s west last September, unnerving neighboring former Soviet republics

MOSCOW: Russia began its biggest war games since the fall of the Soviet Union on Tuesday close to its border with China, mobilizing 300,000 troops in a show of force that will include joint exercises with the Chinese army.
China and Russia have staged joint drills before but not on such a large scale, and the Vostok-2018 (East-2018) exercise signals closer military ties as well as sending an unspoken reminder to Beijing that Moscow is able and ready to defend its sparsely populated far east.
Vostok-2018 is taking place at a time of heightened tension between the West and Russia, and NATO has said it will monitor the exercise closely, as will the United States which has a strong military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.
Russia’s Ministry of Defense broadcast images on Tuesday of columns of tanks, armored vehicles and warships on the move, and combat helicopters and fighter aircraft taking off.
In one clip, marines from Russia’s Northern Fleet and a motorized Arctic brigade were shown disembarking from a large landing ship on a barren shore opposite Alaska.
This activity was part of the first stage of the exercise, which runs until Sept. 17, the ministry said in a statement. It involved deploying additional forces to Russia’s far east and a naval build-up involving its Northern and Pacific fleets.
The main aim was to check the military’s readiness to move troops large distances, to test how closely infantry and naval forces cooperated, and to perfect command and control procedures. Later stages will involve rehearsals of both defensive and offensive scenarios.
Russia also staged a major naval exercise in the eastern Mediterranean this month and its jets resumed bombing the Syrian region of Idlib, the last major enclave of rebels fighting its ally President Bashar Assad.

CLOSER CHINA-RUSSIA TIES
The location of the main training range for Vostok-2018 5,000 km (3,000 miles) east of Moscow means it is likely to be watched closely by Japan, North and South Korea as well as by China and Mongolia, both of whose armies will take part in the maneuvers later this week.
Analysts say Moscow had to invite the Chinese and Mongolian militaries given the proximity of the war games to their borders and because the scale meant the neighboring countries would probably have seen them as a threat had they been excluded.
The exercise — which will involve more than 1,000 military aircraft, two Russian naval fleets, up to 36,000 tanks and armored vehicles and all Russian airborne units — began as President Vladimir Putin held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Russian port city of Vladivostok.
Relations between Moscow and Beijing have long been marked by mutual wariness with Russian nationalists warning of encroaching Chinese influence in the country’s mineral-rich far east.
But Russia pivoted east toward China after the West sanctioned Moscow over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 and trade links between the two, who share a land border over 4,200 km long, have blossomed since.
Russia broadcast footage of some of 24 helicopters and six jets belonging to the Chinese air force landing at Russian air bases for the exercise. Beijing has said 3,200 members of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will join in.
Some experts see the war games as a message to Washington, with which both Moscow and Beijing have strained ties.
“With its Vostok 2018 exercise Russia sends a message that it regards the US as a potential enemy and China as a potential ally,” wrote Dmitri Trenin, a former Russian army colonel and director of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank.
“China, by sending a PLA element to train with the Russians, is signalling that US pressure is pushing it toward much closer military cooperation with Moscow.”
Putin, who is armed forces commander-in-chief, is expected to observe the exercises this week alongside Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who is overseeing them.
Shoigu has said they are the biggest since a Soviet military exercise, Zapad-81 (West-81) in 1981.


US reviews report of imports from forced labor in China camp

Updated 19 December 2018
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US reviews report of imports from forced labor in China camp

  • The US is reviewing reports of forced labor at a Chinese detention camp where ethnic minorities must give up their religion and language
  • Following reports, the US said that it had suspended business with the Chinese supplier and was investigating.

BEIJING: The US government said Tuesday that it is reviewing reports of forced labor at a Chinese detention camp where ethnic minorities must give up their religion and language and may be subject to political indoctrination.
US Customs and Border Protection said in a statement that reporting by The Associated Press and other media “for the first time appears to link the internment camps identified in Western China to the importation of goods produced by forced labor by a US company.”
The AP tracked shipments from a factory in a detention camp in China’s Xinjiang region to Badger Sportswear in North Carolina. The company ships clothing to universities, colleges and schools around the United States.
Following the reports, Badger said that it had suspended business with the Chinese supplier and was investigating.
The Washington-based Workers Rights Consortium, which has agreements with many educational institutions to make sure the products they sell on campus are ethically manufactured, said that “forced labor of any kind is a severe violation of university codes of conduct.”
It’s against US law to import products of forced labor. Customs and Border Protection said it is part of its mission to enforce “both laws to protect individuals from forced labor and our Nation’s economy from businesses profiting from this form of modern slavery.”