Belarus, Russia begin joint military exercise
Belarus and Russia began their joint large-scale military exercise, titled Zapad (West) 2017, on Thursday amid neighboring nations` deep concerns.
The weeklong maneuvers are to take place in Belarus and Russia`s Kaliningrad exclave and will feature some 12,700 troops. Six training grounds in Belarus will be involved.
The drills in Belarus will feature a total of 10,175 military servicemen, including 3,100 Russian troops, as well as 138 tanks, 231 armored combat vehicles, 142 artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, and 49 military aircraft. Of them, 98 tanks, 104 armored combat vehicles, 32 artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, and 27 military aircraft are to be contributed by the Russian army.
The exercise is based on a scenario involving a crisis caused by "illegal armed groups, international separatist and terrorist organizations that enjoy external support."
The scenario pits the armies of Belarus and Russia against a coalition of fictional states west of Belarus. Two of the states, Vesbariya and Lubeniya, occupy the territory of Poland and the Baltic states. The third state, Veishnoriya, occupies parts of northwestern Belarus.
According to the scenario, the coalition seeks to "destabilize the situation in the country and achieve the deterioration of relations" between Belarus and Russia.
During the exercise, Belarusian and Russian troops are to practice joint operations to seal the border, guard and defend military installations and destroy subversive and reconnaissance groups and illegal armed units, as well as practice defensive combat against troops invading Belarus.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Vladimir Putin plan to attend the exercise. Speaking earlier this month, the Russian president`s spokesman said that the heads of state were expected to visit a training ground "in one of Russia`s regions."
Belarus earlier said that it had invited more than 80 representatives of other countries and international organizations to observe the maneuvers.
Top politicians in neighboring states have expressed fears over the exercise, suggesting that the Russian troops may stay in Belarus after the wargame is over. Speaking last week, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko warned that Zapad 2017 may be used by Russia to create new assault groups for "invading the territory of Ukraine."
The Belarusian authorities have repeatedly described Zapad 2017 as a purely defensive exercise and shrugged off the fears.