Russia launches major military drills in Far East

Russia has launched in its Far East region the country's first major military drills since the start of its invasion of Ukraine this February.

Russia's defense ministry said the weeklong Vostok 2022 exercise started on Thursday in the region and the Sea of Japan with forces from China, India, Mongolia and 10 other countries.

Russia holds the drills every four years. "Vostok" means "east" in Russian.

The ministry mentioned 7 training grounds to be used for the operations, including those on Etorofu and Kunashiri, two of the four islands Japan calls the Northern Territories.

Russia controls the four islands. Japan claims them. The Japanese government maintains the islands are an inherent part of Japan's territory. It says the islands were illegally occupied after World War Two.

The ministry's official website has made part of the drills public. It shows soldiers being transported on armored vehicles, and officers operating communications equipment.

The website also features a video showing ships of the Pacific Fleet leaving port for the drills. The site says more than 50 warships are already in action.

The website emphasizes that as part of the exercise, Russian and Chinese forces will practice joint maneuvers to protect against enemy warships, planes and submarines in the Sea of Japan and elsewhere.

The defense ministry said more than 50,000 personnel will take part in Vostok 2022. That's about a sixth of the 300,000 personnel who participated in the previous drills four years ago.

Observers say the significantly smaller number appears to reflect the fact that many of the Russian soldiers deployed in the Ukraine invasion are from the Far East.