Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the snap drills, which were held at the Port of Vladivostok facing the Sea of Japan. The exercises were held on the first anniversary of the sinking of the guided missile cruiser Moskva on April 14. The Slava-class cruiser was destroyed on April 14, 2022 amid the Russia-Ukraine war.
The war games were held to test the Pacific Fleet's readiness to stage a retaliatory nuclear strike on the West, according to the Sun. They were expected to involve the firing of missiles and testing the readiness of Moscow's nuclear-capable strategic bombers and submarines.
Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, said the country's navy would be put on high alert during the drills. He added that naval forces would also be deployed to training areas to conduct combat exercises.
"The main goal of this check is to build up the ability of the armed forces to solve the tasks of repelling the aggression of a potential enemy from oceanic and sea areas," explained Gerasimov. "During the effect, the Pacific Fleet will have to repel missile and air strikes; conduct exercises to search for and destroy submarines; [and] perform torpedo and artillery firing and missile launches."
Established in 1731 as part of Imperial Russian forces, the Russian Pacific Fleet has been utilized by Moscow as its main weapon in retaliatory strikes.
The snap exercises appear to be a deliberate show of strength against the West amid the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. Aside from this, they also appear to have other objectives – such as repelling supposed enemy attacks on Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands.
Japan asserts territorial rights to four islands in the chain: Kunashir (Kunashiri), Iturup (Etorofu), Shpanberg (Shikotan) and Khabomai (Habomai). The Kurils were annexed by Russia, then under the leadership of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, during World War II.
Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov downplayed claims that the drills were connected to regional tensions. He told a daily press briefing: "This is a common practice. It has been constantly carried out in recent years and it continues. This is about maintaining the necessary level of combat readiness of our armed forces."
Last year, Russia suspended peace talks with Japan regarding the resolution of the Kuril Islands dispute. The suspension was in protest of Tokyo's sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine.
Aside from the drills, the Russian Navy fired supersonic anti-ship missiles at a mock target in the Sea of Japan on March 28. Earlier that month, Russia sent two strategic bomber planes over the body of water. The seven-hour patrol followed Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida kicking off his visit to Ukraine in solidarity with the besieged nation.
The Pacific Fleet's drills happened amid heightened tension in the Asia-Pacific region. While Russia held its sea drills, the U.S. and South Korea conducted joint air exercises after North Korea tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile.
Also, the snap military exercises began days before a planned visit by Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Li Shangfu scheduled from April 16 to 19. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, Shoigu and Li would discuss "prospects of bilateral defense cooperation and acute issues of global and regional security."
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Watch this Russia Today report about Pacific Fleet vessels firing missiles while at the Sea of Japan.
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