MOSCOW (AFP) – President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday inspected huge military exercises Russia's army is carrying out close to the borders with Japan and China, in one of its biggest shows of force in the Asia-Pacific region of recent years.
Thousands of tanks, 160,000 servicemen, 130 aircraft and 70 ships are involved in manoeuvres which extend over a vast area from southeastern Siberia on the border with China to Sakhalin Island north of Japan.
Putin on Tuesday visited Sakhalin Island and state television showed him peering through binoculars at the operations alongside Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu before taking to a helicopter to watch from the air.
Despite the proximity to two of Russia's most important neighbours, Moscow insists that the exercises carry no hostile intent and are within international law.
"I can report that no actions that would violate international obligations have been allowed," said Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov, quoted by the Interfax news agency.
The manoeuvres are part of a series of last minute drills that the military was ordered to carry out in order to check out their battle-preparedness.
The forces involved had to mobilise swiftly after receiving orders this weekend to carry out the war games.
Antonov said foreign military attaches in Moscow were then immediately informed about the tactical exercises which are due to end on July 20.
The defence ministry said that two Russian Tu-95 fighter jets, which carried out a seven-hour flight as part of the exercises, were accompanied part of the way by a pair of jets from both the Japanese and South Korean airforces.
"The flights were made in strict accordance with international rules using airspace over neutral waters, without violating the borders of other states," the defence ministry said.
The new military drills come after Putin in March ordered surprise manoeuvres in the Black Sea region involving 7,000 troops and dozens of ships to test battle-readiness.