Moscow (dpa) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday hosted part of an international military exercise that is set to include 128,000 troops as the country reinforces security ties with China and several other key Asian states.

Russia and neighbouring China have been bolstering their traditionally strong ties in recent years as their relations with the West, particularly the United States, have deteriorated amid regional conflicts and trade disputes.

During the Centre-2019 military exercise, Putin met with the leader of the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan, an important Russian and Chinese ally in Central Asia.

“I have always said and will again say that Kyrgyzstan is for Russia a most reliable friend, ally and partner,” Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov said at the meeting, according to a transcript released by Putin’s office.

The leaders met at a Russian military base in Russia’s central Orenburg region, near the border with another former Soviet republic, Kazakhstan, in Central Asia.

Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China and the four other Asian member states of the China-based Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) military alliance – India, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – were to participate in the exercise.

Putin described the exercise as the largest such event in the history of modern Russia’s relations with Kyrgyzstan, according to the public opening comments in his meeting with Jeenbekov.

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