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Putin vows to beef up army to better defend Russia, allies

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (C) observes the Vostok-2018 (East-2018) military drill at the Tsugol training ground, in Siberia, not far from the Chinese and Mongolian border, September 13, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin says his country’s military practices are defensive and offensive in nature, and has pledged to strengthen Russia’s armed forces and provide them with the “latest weapons and technologies” to help them better protect the country and its allies.

The Russian president arrived in the country’s Siberia Zabaikalsky region on Thursday to observe the massive military exercise, called Vostok-2018, on Thursday.

The exercise, described by Russia’s Defense Ministry as the country’s largest drill since the end of the Cold War, involves more than 300,000 troops and also incorporates contingents from China and Mongolia.

The drill started on Tuesday and is scheduled to run at five ranges in Russia’s Far East and in the waters of the Sea of Japan, the Bering Sea, and the Sea of Okhotsk until September 17.

Putin praised the “mastery” of the Russian army and its “capacity to face down potential threats” after watching the drill at the Tsugol military training ground near the borders with Mongolia and China.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (2-L), China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe (L), Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (3-R), and Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov (R) observe the Vostok-2018 (East-2018) military drill at the Tsugol training ground, in Siberia, not far from the Chinese and Mongolian border, September 13, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

“Our duty to our country is to be ready to defend our sovereignty, our security, and our national interests and, if we must, to support our allies,” the Russian president said following a huge military parade.

“Therefore, we will continue to strengthen our armed forces, equip them with latest weapons and technologies and develop international military cooperation,” he added.

Putin said the Vostok-2018 drill demonstrated that the Russian army was capable of countering military threats.

​Russian, Chinese, and Mongolian troops and military equipment parade during the Vostok-2018 (East-2018) military drill at the Tsugol training ground in Siberia, on September 13, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Russia has described the drill as purely defensive in nature, but NATO has already condemned it as a rehearsal for “large-scale conflict,” saying it would monitor the exercise closely, as will the United States, whose relations with both Moscow and Beijing have been fraying.

The Western military alliance of NATO has boosted its presence in Eastern Europe for the duration of the Russian drill.

Putin said the Russian government advocated peace and declared that his country was a “peace-loving state.”

“We do not and cannot have aggressive plans,” the president said. “Our foreign policy is aimed at constructive cooperation with all countries that are interested in it.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had earlier said that the exercise was “justified” in “the current international situation” given the “aggressive and unfriendly” attitudes toward Russia.

NATO has often held military maneuvers near Russia’s western borders, stationing advanced military hardware. It has also been trying to co-opt more countries from near Russia.

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