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Gathering Storm

Russia is preparing to hold its biggest war games, since the fall of the Soviet Union paving the way for cold war tensions with the West led by NATO. Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu spoke of a massive military exercise since 1981 that will also involve the Chinese and Mongolian armies. The Chinese army has been inducted into this exercise even as Chinese premier Xi Xinping and Vladimir Putin have become have become close allies. Authorities in Beijing have confirmed that 3,200 soldiers, 900 tanks and 30 jets and helicopters will take part in the manoeuvres. A smaller number will be contributed by Mongolian army. The exercise called Vostok -2018 (East- 2018) will take place in the eastern Russian Military districts and engage almost 3,00,0000 troops, over 1000 military aircrafts, two of Russia’s Naval fleets and all airborne units. The manoeuvres will take place at a time of heightened tension between the West and Russia triggered by Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. NATO says it has beefed up its forces in Eastern Europe to deter potential Russian military action. There was also a pro-Russian uprising in eastern Ukraine which antagonised the West.

The Russia Ministry of Defence has disclosed that its war games in September will have Chinese and Mongolia military units taking part in the exercise. It is no longer a matter of speculation that China’s military involvement means Moscow and Beijing are moving towards an alliance. The US President Donald trump has of late fired diplomatic salvoes against China apart from starting a trade war with it. Thus the joint exercise means Trump’s honeymoon with Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, is cooling off. Meanwhile Japan is watching with concern the shifts in Russian-Chinese military co-operation.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hopes to have talks with President Putin at the 4th Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok this month to resolve the issue of sovereignty over the four islands of Kunashir, Iturup, Shikotan and the Habomai archipelago that make up the northern territories and which are also termed as the Southern Kurile Islands. Abe hopes to sign a peace treaty. The meeting in Vladivostok would be the 22nd one for Putin and Abe. Russia and Japan have been holding talks since the middle of the 20th century, to resolve the problem of sovereignty over the Southern Kuriles. The four islands, one of them uninhabited had gone to the USSR after World War II but Japan continues to challenge the Russian jurisdiction over them.

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