Putin announced the military exercise “Vostok 2022” with much fanfare. Now it turns out that the announced high number of participants was obviously extremely embellished.
Vostok 2022 – Russia’s military exercise in the Eastern Military District (Vostok), which began on September 1, ended yesterday. According to official Russian data, 50,000 soldiers took part. Accordingly, 140 aircraft and 60 warships were also deployed. However, military observers doubt that so many soldiers took part in the maneuver. They estimate that no more than 15,000 soldiers were actively involved in the military exercises.
The exercise in the East Military District takes place every four years. Compared to the military maneuvers in 2018, significantly fewer soldiers were involved this time, even according to official information, even if the official number of 300,000 soldiers at the time was clearly exaggerated. In fact, there were probably around 100,000 maneuver participants at the time.
Russia currently lacks the soldiers for such a large maneuver. Large contingents of troops are fighting in Ukraine, including many soldiers from the Eastern Military District. Nevertheless, the Russian leadership wanted to use the military exercise to demonstrate that Russia is capable of carrying out large-scale military maneuvers despite the war in Ukraine. The maneuvering sites were Siberia, the Russian Far East, the Sea of Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan.
The renewed participation of soldiers from China and India was also politically important (although the number of participating soldiers from India was allegedly less than 100 soldiers). Other, smaller countries have also sent soldiers into this maneuver. In addition to Russia, 13 countries were involved in the exercise as participants or observers. Among them were the members of the Russian-led military alliance ODKB.
China and India are probably Russia’s most important partner states at the moment. Their participation in the exercise should also demonstrate that Russia is isolated by the collective West, but not globally. China’s renewed participation demonstrates that military cooperation with Russia is unbroken. Chinese troops also value training with experienced Russian soldiers.
Despite this, China has not provided any military goods for the Russian war in Ukraine. High-tech deliveries for the Russian armaments industry, which has to do without Western components, have probably only been made to a limited extent. Chinese companies fear secondary sanctions if they supply goods sanctioned by the West to Russia. The North American and European markets are much more important for China than the Russian one. This also shows that the “partnership without borders” invoked by Putin and Xi in February 2022 does have its limits.
Russian and Chinese ships have been conducting exercises in the Sea of Japan. The Japanese government had previously urged that the Russia-Japan disputed island chain of the southern Kuril Islands (called the “Northern Territories” in Japan) should not be included in the manoeuvre. Of course, the Russian leadership refused. On the contrary, during the military exercise in the Sea of Japan, an enemy attack on the southern Kuril Islands was fought and repelled.
As usual, the Russian President also attended the maneuver on the last day of the exercise. Russian state television shows Putin with Defense Minister Sojgu and Chief of Staff Gerasimov at a command post during the maneuver. Rumor has it that relations with these two main militaries responsible for the Ukraine war are now disrupted. Putin had expected quick success in this war. Observers believe that both are only still in their posts because their dismissal would signal that, contrary to what is often claimed, not everything in the fighting in Ukraine is going “according to plan”.
As with all maneuvers, it remains controversial whether these exercises had more military benefits or were intended to send out geopolitical signals. In any case, the British Ministry of Defense – which is of course not neutral in this respect – announced that such large-scale maneuvers would not sufficiently enable the Russian armed forces to carry out complex military operations, as the war against Ukraine shows.