Russia is using a fraction of soldiers it claimed for military exercises with China and India, UK intel says
- Russia's joint mass military exercises will be far smaller than the Kremlin claims, the UK said.
- Around 85% of the Russian troops that would normally join in are committed in Ukraine.
A scathing British intelligence brief has downplayed the scale of Russia's annual military exercises, which are being held this week with several countries including India and China.
Russia's Ministry of Defense claimed some 50,000 of its own troops will take part in Vostok 22, a set of mass military exercises running between September 1-7 across Russia's far east and the Sea of Japan, according to Al-Jazeera. India, China, Laos, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Syria and ex-Soviet states will also participate.
The Kremlin said the display will bring together 5,000 units of weaponry including 140 aircraft and 60 warships, the outlet reported.
But an intelligence update from the UK's Ministry of Defence argued the number of Russian troops actively taking part will be more like 15,000.
Around 85% of the units of Russia's Eastern Military District — from whose ranks Russia would typically pull in soldiers for the Vostok exercises — are estimated to be already committed in Ukraine, according a western official, who spoke frankly to Insider only on the basis of anonymity.
The last Vostok exercise, in 2018, involved five times as many troops, the UK's MoD said.
—Ministry of Defence (@DefenceHQ) September 2, 2022
However, the UK intelligence briefing said the war in Ukraine has highlighted the shortcomings of such exercises, which it dismissed as little more than a PR stunt.
"Russia's military performance in Ukraine has highlighted that Russia's military strategic exercises, such as Vostok, have failed to sustain the military's ability to conduct large scale, complex operations," the statement said.
"Such events are heavily scripted, do not encourage initiative, and primarily aim to impress Russian leaders and international audiences."
Reports over many months have suggested the Kremlin is struggling with recruitment, including a BBC report from August. At that time the US Defense Department estimated that as many as 80,000 Russian soldiers have died in Ukraine, Foreign Policy reported.
Vostok 22 is intended as a display of deepening defense ties between the participating countries — particularly between the major economies of China, India and Russia.
However India withdrew from the naval side of the exercises to avoid upsetting Japan, according to Indian newspaper the Deccan Herald.
China has been hesitant to offer full-throated support for Russia's assault on Ukraine, and said in August that its participation in Vostok 22 "is unrelated to the current international and regional situation," according to a US Coast Guard report.
However, the two countries have cooperated on joint wargames for a number of years, per Al Jazeera.
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