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Russian war games with Belarus 'designed to provoke Nato'

15 September 2017, 12:54 | Rodolfo Quinn

Russia begins large scale Zapad 2017 military exercise in Belarus

Estonia to send observers to Zapad exercise

Belarus, where the Zapad exercise is set to be held, borders Ukraine as well as North Atlantic Treaty Organisation members Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia.

Military threat to Russian Federation from Belarus, where the exercises "West-2017", is expected after the completion of the maneuvers, said the President of Lithuania. Reportedly, this was a topic raised by Poroshenko during Alexander Lukashenko's visit to Ukraine, with the Belarusian president assuring his host that the territory of Belarus would never be used to pose a threat to Ukraine. In addition, based on the principles of the Vienna Document, the country has invitied two observers each from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Norway, Sweden and Ukraine to take part in a program taking place from September 16-20. That is just below the level at which Russian Federation and Belarus would be required under an global convention to invite Western observers. It says they are larger than Moscow has publicised, numbering some 100,000 troops, and involve firing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.

A Russian T-90 tank fires in Kubinka Patriot Park outside Moscow during the first day of the "Army 2017" International Military-Technical Forum, Aug. 22, 2017.more +.

"We reject complaints of these exercises not being transparent", Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters.

The exercises, a variant of Soviet drills during the 1970s, were revived on a large scale by President Vladimir Putin in 2009.

Russian and Belarusian tanks, jets, artillery, and infantry have begun surging toward European Union borders in a massive war game that is taking place amid genuine Russian aggression in Ukraine and Syria.

US troops are now taking part in a multinational military exercise in Ukraine, an exercise that comes just days before Russian Federation is scheduled to launch their own massive military maneuvers that have put the region on edge. Ben Hodges, who leads U.S. Army forces in Europe, told Reuters that "people are anxious this is a Trojan horse".

Estonia to send observers to Zapad exercise
Sweden holds the largest war games in 20 years

They are there to emphasise Nato's determination to defend its allies - and Russia's closest Western neighbours.

Hodges and other USA and European officials have stressed that the current exercises are probably just drills.

Russia and Belarus say the exercises, which last until September 20, will involve 5,500 Russian and 7,200 Belarusian troops. No other exercise has been followed by Western analysts with comparable attention since 1990, though Moscow claims the drills are routine. "And I am sure that we will restore our relationship with NATO and we will return to the wonderful form of cooperation that is the Russia-NATO Council". A total of 10,200 military personnel will take part in the drills: 7,000 Belarusian troops and 3,000 Russian servicemen. It also serves to validate aspects of the Ukraine's military training program.

'We can't be totally calm.

Adding to the discomfort is one of the games' scenarios - a Russian response to aggression from a fictional Western-backed country.

In a July statement, the Swedish Armed Forces wrote that "several other countries" had been invited to take part in the exercise to enhance "Sweden's defense capability against a larger, sophisticated opponent", in what appeared to be a reference to Russian Federation. If Russia decides to sustain its enlarged military presence in Belarus, this would increase the pressure on Lukashenko, who in the past has repeatedly asserted that he is not in favor of such a development. But in order to execute Zapad-17, Russian Federation has been expanding its military infrastructure in Belarus. But a quarrel over gas supplies and Russia's invasion of Ukraine has recently strained that balance. By the end of the month the Belarusian and Russian military will have returned to their places of permanent deployment. A satirical Twitter account purporting to represent Veishnoriya's foreign ministry has posted menacing messages warning that it is building up its troops along the Belarus border.

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