Russia and China flagged off their regular anti-terrorist war games in Russia’s Urals region on Saturday seen by experts as preparations for a local military conflict in Central Asia.

The “Peace Mission 2013” drill in the Chebarkul military training area 1,700 km east of Moscow involves 1,500 troops and more than 250 units of military hardware, including 20 aircraft and helicopters.

China has dispatched over 600 personnel as well as tanks, armoured personnel carriers, reconnaissance vehicles, self-propelled guns, JH-7A fighter-bombers and helicopters to participate in the drill, which will continue till August 17.

Joint military exercises held since 2005 alternatively in Russia and China within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) are invariably described as anti-terrorist, but in reality go far beyond their official agenda.

Though the scenario of the drills in Chebarkul typically provides for the destruction of large terrorist gangs, the weapons and equipment involved suggest “preparations for a full-scale local war on land”, said analyst Vasily Kashin of the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.

The drills “are aimed at training for joint operations in case of a massive destabilisation in Central Asia”, Mr. Kashin said.

“It is particularly important to prepare for this negative scenario today, when the United States and NATO are poised to sharply reduce their presence in Afghanistan in 2014,” he said, pointing to the risks of destabilisation in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

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