RUSSIA: Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared jovial and joking with his defence minister Sergei Shoigu on Tuesday at a conference as he inspected an extensive military drill in Russia’s far east, thousands of miles away from the epicentre of the Ukraine conflict.
The East exercises, also known as “Vostov” drills, involved troops from both China and India. However, it was unclear if units from those countries participated in the portion observed by Putin.
The Zvezda military news service broadcasted a clip of Putin seated next to Defence Minister Shoigu, both dressed in fine military combat vests. The two men were seen exchanging a joke as they listened to a phone exchange between Shoigu’s deputy and the head of the general staff.
By conducting the Vostov drills, Putin wants to send a clear message to the world regarding its unwavering strength despite the many losses it has suffered in the wake of the Ukraine conflict. Putin’s jovial expression was a clear indication that Russia’s military can sustain its strength even after heavy casualties in men and equipment.
The defence ministry noted that the staged war games that began on September 1 involve only 50,000 troops, a mere fraction of the 300,000 that took part earlier in 2018. Western military analysts and experts suggest these numbers are widely exaggerated.
The defence ministry also released a video on Tuesday, displaying the naval part of the exercise, showing Russia’s Pacific Fleet practising launching Kalibr cruise missiles which it said had successfully struck a target more than 300 km (185 miles) away.
Earlier this week on Monday, Russia and China pooled resources together to conduct combat ships practising an enemy air attack using air defence artillery systems.
Last week, warships from the two countries carried out anti-ship, anti-air and anti-submarine defence tasks in the Sea of Japan, the ministry said.
Moscow and Beijing have maintained good ties with each other, settling on a “no-limits” partnership, and vowing to host more of these military drills to strengthen and mobilize their forces against international threats.
Incidentally, Russia is the biggest arms supplier to India, which went ahead with the exercise days after the United States confirmed its distress about any country hosting military manoeuvres with Russia.
Moscow says the war games also involve military contingents and observers from Algeria, Laos, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Syria and six former Soviet republics.
In another news, Russia’s defence ministry on Tuesday claimed that Ukraine had launched a deadly counter-attack on the volatile Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant site, firing 20 artillery shells in the nearby town of Enerhodar and other surrounding areas in the last 24 hours.
In its daily briefing, the ministry also reported that three shells landed on the territory of the nuclear power station, including one that exploded near power unit No.2. Radiation levels at Europe’s biggest nuclear plant remained normal, the ministry added.
In the past few months, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant site has become the epicentre of Russia and Ukraine fighting, and shelling around the zone from both sides has caused international concerns about the physical conditions of the plant.
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s director general Rafael Gross, who headed a UN team of nuclear experts to Zaporizhzhia, was at the plant a few days ago. He confirmed that, during his visit to the plant, the physical integrity of the site had been “violated”.
The team is yet to release a nuclear report highlighting any signs of a possible radiation leak that could lead to a serious Chornobyl-like “catastrophe”.