Russia’s Pacific Fleet Placed on High Alert for Snap Drills

Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP
In this handout photo taken from video released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Friday, April 14, 2023, A Russian nuclear submarine sails off to take part in the Pacific Fleet drills near Vladivostok, Russia.

MOSCOW (AP) — The entire Russian Pacific Fleet was put on high alert Friday for snap drills that will involve practice missile launches, in a massive show of force amid tensions with the West over the fighting in Ukraine.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the goal of the war games was to test the capability of Russia’s armed forces to mount a response to aggression.

Along with the missile launches, the drills will also involve nuclear-capable strategic bombers and other warplanes besides the naval aviation of the Pacific Fleet, Shoigu said.

The Defense Ministry declared that areas in the southern part of the Sea of Okhotsk, the Peter the Great Bay of the Sea of Japan and the Avacha Bay on the southeastern coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula would be closed for sea and air traffic for the duration of practice torpedo and missile launches and artillery exercises.

The ministry said that Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin briefed foreign military attaches about the drills, emphasizing that they were intended to “test the Pacific Fleet’s readiness to repel aggression.” The ministry described the briefing as a show of Russia’s “voluntary transparency.”

The Russian military has concentrated the bulk of its forces on the front lines in Ukraine, but has also continued conducting regular drills across Russia to train its forces and demonstrate their readiness.

The Russian Defense Ministry released videos showing warships and submarines sailing off to take part in the maneuvers. As part of the drills, marine units deployed to amphibious landing vessels and coastal defense missile systems moved to firing positions.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the war games as part of regular training intended to “maintain the necessary level of the armed forces’ readiness.”

Shoigu noted that the scenario for the maneuvers envisages a response to an adversary’s attempt to make a landing on Sakhalin Island and the southern Kuril Islands.

Japan asserts territorial rights to the Kuril Islands, which it calls the Northern Territories. The Soviet Union took them in the final days of World War II, and the dispute has kept the countries from signing a peace treaty formally ending their hostilities.

Last year, Russia announced it had suspended peace talks with Japan to protest Tokyo’s sanctions against Moscow over its action in Ukraine.

Russia has built up its military presence on the islands in recent years, deploying advanced fighter jets, anti-ship missiles and air defense systems there.

The Pacific Fleet drills started days before a planned trip to Moscow by Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Li Shangfu. The Russian Defense Ministry said Shoigu and Li would discuss “prospects of bilateral defense cooperation and acute issues of global and regional security.”

A three-day visit to Moscow by Chinese President Xi Jinping last month demonstrated the two nations’ partnership in the face of Western efforts to isolate Russia over Ukraine and gave a political lift to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Both Moscow and Beijing have accused Washington of trying to isolate them and to hold back their development as they challenge the U.S. for regional and global leadership.

Putin and Xi said they would increase contacts between their militaries and stage more joint sea and air patrols and drills, but there was no hint that China would help Russia with weapons, as the U.S. and other Western allies feared.