Far East exercises show drain on Russian forces

Foreign troops taking part in the Vostok 2022 military exercises. This photo was posted on social media Sunday by Russia’s Defense Ministry.

Russia’s first large-scale military exercises since its invasion of Ukraine, held in the Far East, have been considerably scaled down from its previous drills, illustrating how much the ongoing war has exhausted its military strength.

Flaunting its cooperation with China and India, Russia is emphasizing through the exercises its ability to deploy its forces in the Asia-Pacific region and is making clear its intention to influence the United States, which continues to provide military support to Ukraine.

Displaying ‘reserve power’

At the final stage of the Vostok 2022 exercises on Sakhalin Island on Sunday, the Russian military conducted a decontamination drill on the assumption that enemy forces had used chemical weapons immediately before retreating. The Russian military has repeatedly made unilateral claims that its Ukrainian counterparts are secretly developing chemical weapons with the support of the U.S. military and others.

The exercise also featured the T-80, Russia’s main battle tank. The Russians have lost about 200 tanks of the T-80 series in Ukraine, according to Oryx, an organization that monitors the losses suffered by Russian and Ukrainian forces. More than 5,000 Russian ground weapons and pieces of equipment, including tanks and armored vehicles, are said to be no longer usable.

Vostok 2022 is aimed at highlighting the “reserve strength” of the Russian military.

Number of vehicles unknown

However, senior U.S. and British officials have put the number of Russian military casualties in Ukraine at about 80,000. Estimated to have a total strength of about 900,000 troops, Russia seems to be having difficulty concealing the drain on its forces.

Russia conducts large-scale military exercises every fall on a rotating regional basis — this is the first time they have been held in the Far East since Vostok 2018 four years ago. Soldiers gathered from other regions of the country for that event, making it the largest such undertaking since the end of the Cold War, with 300,000 soldiers participating.

This year, however, there are only 50,000 soldiers, one-sixth of the previous number. The number of tanks and other vehicles taking part — approximately 36,000 in 2018 — has not been disclosed.

The number of sites scheduled for land exercises has also been reduced to seven, from the 13 announced in July.

Over the past six months, ground troops deployed by the Russian military in the Far East may also have been reduced from the about 80,000 indicated in Japan’s White Paper on Defense. This is because the Eastern Military District, which has jurisdiction over the Far East and other areas, has also dispatched troops to Ukraine, some 8,000 kilometers away, as part of Russia’s so-called special military operations.

According to the Institute for the Study of War, a U.S. public policy research organization, soldiers from the Eastern Military District are believed to be deployed in Izyum, the Kharkiv region in eastern Ukraine, and Russian-occupied areas in the Kherson region in southern Ukraine.

13 foreign nations participating

Russia’s Defense Ministry announced that 13 foreign countries, including observers, would participate in the exercises, including China, India and the anti-U.S. leftist government of Nicaragua in Central America. This is the largest number ever to take part in Vostok military drills.

The exercises include daily joint drills involving the Russian Pacific Fleet and the Chinese Navy. This is to demonstrate their ability to send naval vessels immediately to the Asia-Pacific region, including Japan, and to cooperate with each other.

The joint drills to be held at a training ground near Vladivostok in the Far East on Tuesday are expected to be watched by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is seeking to demonstrate that Russia has not been isolated in military affairs.