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.


From ‘minga’ to ‘Maga’ — how the UN heard two world views

US President Donald Trump during a working luncheon hosted by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, front, at the United Nations in New York Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 26 September 2018
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From ‘minga’ to ‘Maga’ — how the UN heard two world views

  • Trump had his own ideas for solving those very same problems, but they owed little to the minga philosophy

NEW YORK: The president of the United Nations General Assembly, Maria Espinosa, introduced the concept of “minga” to the packed audience at the organization’s HQ on East 44th Street in New York; but an hour later President Donald Trump had reasserted his own view of the world, under the “Maga” banner.
Opening the first day of the UN general debate — the centerpiece of the organization’s annual get together — Espinosa, from Ecuador, explained that minga was a principle by which the people of the Andes lived their lives. Its main tenet was the principle of living and working together in harmony for the betterment of all — an idea sure to win approval at the UN.
With minga the world could solve the big issues it faces, from gender inequality through the environment down to peace and security.
Trump had his own ideas for solving those very same problems, but they owed little to the minga philosophy. Instead, he saw the world through the prism of “strong independent nations” which together would advance the state of mankind.
And, as he made clear, the US was the leader of this band of nation, so his oft-declared amibition of “making America great again” (Maga) would bring the rest of the world along with it to greatness.
“Inside everyone listening here today is the heart of a patriot, filled with the passion that inspired reform and revolutions, economic good, technological progress and works of art. Sovereign independent nations are the only vehicles where freedom, democracy and peace have been enhanced. So we have to protect them,” the president explained.
Not everyone in the audience agreed with Trump’s unilateral view of the world, nor with America’s perceived role in it.
Before he had taken the podium — in presidential dark grey suit, white shirt and long red tie — the two previous speakers had stressed the traditional UN values of collectivism and multilateralism, and received warm applause from the delegates for doing so.
Two South American leaders, President Michel Timer of Brazil and President Lenin Moreno of Ecuador, both talked about the challenges of multilateralism, and obliquely criticized the US over its long-running embargo of Cuba, as well as what they said was the role of American banks in dominating their economies, to the detriment of their people.
The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, said that multilateralism was “under fire exactly when we need it the most, and, in contrast to Trump’s later comments about trade deficits, explained that what the world was really suffering from was a “trust deficit”, which could sink the international order in a bloody quagmire similar to the First World War.
President Trump made light of such dire warnings. In fact, he was adamant that the future was good, with a booming US economy, strong stock markets, full employment, tax reform and increased see spending on the US military.
“In the two years of my presidency, we have seen more progress that almost any other administration in the history of this country,” he said. The delegates murmured in response.