Presiding over an endless horizon studded by lines of soldiers, tanks, howitzers and other heavy weaponry, President Vladimir Putin took to the microphone.
The message was simple, if slightly contradictory.
Russia was a peace-loving state, he said, and “could not have an aggressive plan”. But the massive military drills he had just witnessed were a clear demonstration of “military mastery” and, he said, Russia would “continue to strengthen its armed forces ... adding technologies of the latest generations”.
Today’s training episode, played out at the Tsugol training range in remote eastern Siberia, is the main event of the Vostok-2018 (”East-2018”) war games. The drills, which began their active phase on Thursday, and will last until Monday, have doubled in size since their last iteration in 2014. They have been advertised as the largest since the height of the Cold War.
Some observers have suggested the scale of the exercise might be an exaggeration, a Potemkin show of military might. But today’s episode, which saw a combined Russian-Chinese-Mongolian force resist an “imagined” enemy, was, at a minimum, impressive theatre.
Almost as soon as the presidential helicopters arrived, and Mr Putin made his way to the viewing gallery, guarded by several snipers, the show began.
Action unfolded from the president’s right, and the first scene was all about paratroopers. They descended from Mi-8 and Mi-28 transport helicopters via parachutes and zip wires, and some disembarked from grounded aircraft. After traversing the river, the battle tanks then moved in – Chinese Type-99s from the right, modernised Russian T-72B3s from the left.
Next came the fighter jets and bombers, artillery, and anti-aircraft defence systems, which shot at dynamic, illuminated targets.
Multi-rocket missile systems and Iskander ballistic missiles provided a dramatic conclusion.
The ground shuddered. The sky was shrouded by smoke. The green-brown muddy fields turned black. The air became clogged with soot, debris, kerosene and spent explosive.
The hour-long spectacle was a chance for the Russian military to demonstrate the progress it has made in a breathless decade since the Georgian war of 2008. Operational glitches in that conflict led to a root-and-branch reform of the service. The army prioritised professional soldiers over conscripts, and billions of roubles were invested in equipment.
“Our Syrian experience had a huge effect on the way we carried out the paratrooper and reconnaissance parts of the exercise,” General-Colonel Alexander Zhuravlyov told The Independent on completion of the exercises.
In the event, the show was light on the very latest technology: Mi-8 helicopters and Su-34 supersonic jets were on show, but the Su-57 stealth fighter, for example, was not. There were modernised tanks, and planes and missile systems.
But the main message was less technological than it was a statement of scale and philosophy.
The lines and lines of tanks and heavy weaponry in the parade that followed the exercise left very little to the imagination.
Mr Putin said he was particularly pleased with the success of military co-operation with Beijing. Speaking before the parade to parallel Chinese translation, he thanked the 3,000 visiting People’s Liberation Army troops.
Russia was open to “creative collaboration with any country that sought it,” he said. “Together, China and Russia can achieve mutual security in Eurasia.”
Mr Putin’s open-door offer was repeated in the dozens of posters around the training range that exhaled “friendship in the name of peace".
An offer of continuing cooperation is unlikely to have been lost on President Donald Trump – long suspicious of the Chinese and reportedly envious of Mr Putin’s military parades too.
Less persuasively, Mr Putin claimed there had been a “long and durable tradition of brotherhood” between Russia and China. They had fought “joint battles” in the Second World War and could ally again, he said.
But Mr Putin glossed over the tensions that accompanied post-war relations with China. From the 1960s onwards the area around the Tsugol training range, on the border with China and Mongolia, was frequently on high alert.
“It’s all quiet on the Chinese-Finnish front,” was a common refrain among locals at the time, reflecting a fear of Chinese expansion into the then-Soviet Union.
For residents today, fear of an invasion remains real. The letters page in one regional paper, Vechorka, has been full of worried correspondence from locals concerned about the columns of weaponry they saw crossing the border.
Some complained about extra traffic jams; others saw something more existential.
But a pivot east remains one of the most pressing foreign policy priorities for the Kremlin. After the Crimean annexation enforced international isolation on Russia, the Kremlin has sought an ever closer-relationship with Beijing. China is one of the few wealthy countries able to provide support to sanctioned Russian banks and businesses.
China has never viewed relations with Russia with similar urgency, though the prospect of closer cooperation with the region’s leading military power may change that.