Russian General Staff Chief Valeriy Gerasimov told foreign military attachés this week that Vostok-2018 is not a strategic command-staff exercise (KShU) like other major annual drills of past years. He called Vostok-2018 strategic maneuvers.
“This is the distinction: strategic exercises, as a rule, are conducted with one military district in one strategic direction under the Genshtab chief’s leadership. Maneuvers are on several strategic directions, take the participation of several military districts, in this case the Central and Eastern military districts, Pacific and Northern fleets, units of central subordination [usually Moscow-based MOD or other headquarters-level elements — ed.], and are conducted under the RF defense minister’s leadership.”
He said the choice of maneuvers is not sensational:
“It’s nothing special, their turn just came up. This is the annual training cycle for the RF Armed Forces, and this year they decided to combine two military districts.”
“There’s no other subtext.”
The Genshtab chief said such large-scale maneuvers have never been conducted on RF territory. Closest in scale, he noted, was the Soviet-era Zapad-81 exercise in the Belorussian, Kiev, and Baltic Military Districts and the Baltic Sea.
But Vostok-2018 will be much larger than its distant predecessor. Counting all personnel in the Central and Eastern MDs, the Russian MOD says 297,000 troops will take part. Tens of thousands of armored vehicles, helicopters, aircraft, and UAVs will be used.
“‘Vostok-2018’ will exceed ‘Zapad-81’ in spatial scale and depth of regrouping.”
Moscow will proclaim that Vostok-2018 is not related to current international events and situations, but these “strategic maneuvers” are, in fact, a rehearsal for mobilization, deployment, and operations in a multi-theater, if not global, war.
The “strategic maneuvers” beginning on September 11 will be a military effort not attempted by Russia. They are designed to show average Russians that rubles spent on the military (not on health care, science, education, infrastructure, or pensions) are well used. As a RUSI commentator puts it:
“Putin’s narrative for the past decade has been that hardship is necessary in the short term, enabling the resurrection of Russia as a great power. The demonstration that Russia can conduct exercises at a scale comparable to the Soviet Union is presented as proof that the privations of recent years have allowed genuine and substantial progress in revitalising Russia’s military.”
Despite the skepticism often expressed on these pages, Russia’s military has been revitalized over the past five years. Big questions remain, however.
Can Russian conventional forces really stack up with their peers (U.S., NATO, China) in the unlikely event of conflict? Will they in ten or twenty years? Is it even necessary given Moscow’s nuclear modernization efforts? Have privations in favor of the military eroded the economic, social, and political bases of Russia’s potential greatness?