Huge Russian Military Exercises Test Readiness For Central Asia Deployment
Snap Russian military exercises involving 65,000 troops also included Russian forces based in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. And the exercises demonstrated that "the main tasks of the Russian army in the near future will be focused not only on the Western, but also on the Central Asian military theater," wrote Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
The exercises took place June 21-28 in Russia's Central Military District, and is part of a broader push by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu to institute these sorts of large-scale, unannounced exercises as a way of testing the armed forces' readiness. "The war games will give the picture of combat readiness of the troops stationed on a swathe of huge territory from the Volga River through the Urals Mountains to Siberia, and from the Kara Sea in the Arctic to the steppe on Russia’s southern border with Kazakhstan," reported state television network RT.
Some units from the Western and Southern military districts also took part in the drills, and NATO accused Moscow of using them to threaten Ukraine. "A NATO spokeswoman, Oana Lungescu, lamented Moscow’s military exercises, saying that 'it can be seen as a further escalation of the crisis with Ukraine,'" the AP reported.
The exercises should rather be seen in the context of the upcoming withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan, military experts told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. The newspaper reported that troops from Russia's bases in Tajikistan (the 201st military base) and Kyrgyzstan (Kant) took part, and that the drills were a sort of preparation for three exercises under the Collective Security Treaty Organization coming up this summer. The just-finished exercises focused on mobility, which will obviously be a big issue if Russia decides to intervene in Central Asia some day.
One of the upcoming CSTO exercises, involving the organization's Rapid Deployment Forces to take place in Russia's Chelyabisnk, will be called Rubezh ("Frontier") 2014. It will be aimed at "working out tasks connected with the protection of the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border," said Eduard Rodyukov, a government-affiliated military expert, who added that "similar events have already taken place, when in 1993-1998 the collective peacekeeping forces of the CIS... were located in Tajikistan and provided security on the southern border of the Commonwealth. 'I don't exclude that now similar strengthening of the borders with Afghanistan are being planned,'" he said.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.