Russia prepares massive exercise Tsentr 2019 with large Arctic component

September is coming up, and that means large Russian military exercises. This year it is Tsentr 2019 (or Center 2019), and apparently some 128,000 soldiers will take part in the maneuvers on 16-21 September. That reports RIA Novosti. On the technical front there will be around 20,000 military vehicles, 600 aircraft, and 15 ships.

The big Russian exercises typically rotate between different geographical regions on a four-year schedule. According to the official figures the numbers of participating troops have varied like this:

NameRussian nameNumber of soldiers
Zapad 2009 (West 2009)Запад 200912,500
Vostok 2010 (East 2010)Восток 201020,000
Tsentr 2011 (Center 2011)Центр 201112,000
Kavkaz 2012 (Caucasus 2012)Кавказ 20128,000
Zapad 2013 (West 2013)Запад 201312,100
Vostok 2014 (East 2014)Восток 2014100,000
Tsentr 2015 (Center 2015)Центр 201595,000
Kavkaz 2016 (Caucasus 2016)Кавказ 201612,500
Zapad 2017 (West 2017)Запад 201712,700
Vostok 2018 (East 2018)Восток 2018300,000
Tsentr 2019 (Center 2019)Центр 2019128,000

These numbers are notoriously unreliable. The Russian Defense Ministry tends to exaggerate the size of exercises in the East and to understate them when practicing in the West. This way they get to report some sensational numbers for military exercises in the East, while they stay under the limits that would require them to invite foreign observers to exercises in the West. Nevertheless, it seems fair to assume that Tsentr 2019 will have more participating troops than Tsentr 2015. It also seems in line with the general trend toward larger exercises.

The exercise will – unsurprisingly – take place in the central region of Russia. There will be foreign participation from China, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, India, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Some of the maneuvers will take place in these countries.

Tor-M2DT air defense
The new Tor-M2DT air defense system is specifically designed for Arctic conditions. Photo:

It is meaningful to understand these massive exercises as overarching frameworks that embrace often unrelated smaller exercises. For example, the Defense Ministry has earlier announced that Tsentr 2019 will have a large Arctic dimension. The distance from the Central Asian republics to the Arctic coast is some 3,000 kilometers, and in most practical terms it will be separate exercises. There is, however, the tactical connection that the individual military units don’t necessarily know where they will take part, so they must be ready for any scenario.

In the Arctic area, Russia prepares to conduct the largest exercise in expeditionary warfare for the last 38 years. It will take place in the area between the New Siberian Islands and Novaya Zemlya.




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