-Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that developing Russia’s naval capabilities remained a priority following drills conducted by his country’s Pacific Fleet.
A transcript on the Kremlin website released Monday outlined a conversation between Putin and Sergei Shoigu, his defense minister. Shoigu said exercises that had started Friday involved 25,000 personnel, 89 aircraft and helicopters, as well as 167 warships, including 12 submarines.
The drills included submarine searches on the approaches to Peter the Great Gulf on the southern coast of Primorsky Krai and Avacha Bay on the southeastern coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula. There were other exercises in the Sea of Okhotsk and the “combat stability of strategic missile submarines and their readiness for the use of weapons was worked out,” Shoigu said.
He also outlined how a tactical air defense exercise had begun and that Tuesday would see strategic missile carriers in the center of the Pacific Ocean conduct “an imitation of strikes against ship groups of a mock enemy.”
In response, Putin emphasized that the exercises in the Pacific had gone ahead despite the “clear priorities” of the war in Ukraine, adding that the fleet “can certainly be used in conflicts in any direction.” Without mentioning Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later explained that Putin was commenting on a “turbulent” environment “in many areas.”
“It is fraught with conflict situations and regional conflicts,” he said according to Tass. “We all know the geography of these regional conflicts well.”
Former British military intelligence officer Philip Ingram told Newsweek that there were several reasons for the drills.
One was “to try and show Russia continues its normal military activities even though it is fighting its special military operation in Ukraine.”
Russia also wanted to show it is a player in the Pacific region, as well as consolidate ties with China and send “a warning to Japan regarding any potential ambitions to retake the Kuril Islands thinking Russia is distracted in Ukraine,” Ingram added.
Japan asserts territorial rights to the Kuril Islands, which it calls the Northern Territories, and are located off its northernmost island of Hokkaido.
The islands have been disputed by Moscow and Tokyo since the Soviet Union took them at the end of World War II. In 2022, Moscow suspended talks with Japan over the islands in protest at Tokyo’s sanctions against Russia for its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Andrew Latham, a professor of International Relations at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, said that Russia’s latest drills were “routine signaling” in case the U.S. and Japan were considering testing Russia in Northeast Asia or anywhere beyond the Ukrainian theater.
“I don’t think the Japanese are champing at the bit to ‘liberate’ the Kurils, or that the U.S. is looking for a window of opportunity to test Russia in its Pacific,” he told Newsweek. “So it’s also likely to be signaling to internal audiences more than external.”