ISLAMABAD: Russia on Monday started a massive military exercise involving 128,000 troops and the militaries of several allies, including Pakistan, under the ambit of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, according to a press statement released by the Inter-Services Public Relations on Tuesday.

The weeklong military exercise called TSENTR (Center) 2019 began at Donguz in Orenburg region, with the opening ceremony attended by senior military officials of all participating countries.

The Center-2019 drills will last through Saturday in the Urals, Siberia and the Caspian Sea, according to AFP.

They will include over 20,000 pieces of military equipment and 15 ships, the Russian defence ministry said.

Russia regularly holds massive exercises, rotating in different regions of the country. Last year, the East-2018 exercises involved over 300,000 troops, making them the largest in the post-Soviet era.

The purpose of the latest drills is to “work on using groups of armed forces in solving issues of fighting international terrorism and ensuring military security in the strategic direction of Central Asia”, the ministry said.

The first stage of the two-part drills will focus on issues of fighting terrorism and thwarting an attack from the air. During the second stage, forces will go on an offensive against a supposed enemy.

Troops from India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are taking part in the exercise.

“The drills will serve to develop military collaboration and strengthen cooperation between our countries,” Deputy Defence Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov said at the opening ceremony.

Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2019