Russia, Belarus begin active phase of huge war games
The “Zapad-2021″ war games, taking place on Russia’s and Belarus’s western flanks, are due to run until next Thursday.
The active part of the exercise, which comes at a time of heightened tensions between the West and Belarus due to a crackdown on the opposition there, begins on Friday and will run until Sept. 16.
Moscow released footage of warships and tanks opening fire and fighter jets taking off.
The manoeuvres, the culmination of a three-month exercise, are held every four years.
At talks with his Belarusian counterpart on Thursday, President Vladimir Putin denied the exercises were directed against any foreign power but said they were entirely logical given what he said was increasing NATO activity near Russia’s borders and those of its allies.
The Western NATO alliance, whose officials have said Russia has regularly underreported the size of the exercises in the past, has urged Russia to be transparent and said it will be watching closely.
Russia sees Belarus as a strategically important buffer to its west and helped to keep President Alexander Lukashenko in power with loans and political backing as he cracked down on huge protests last year and arrested or drove out opposition figures.
Putin and Lukashenko are due to inspect the exercises personally, according to Belarusian state media, though it was not clear when that would happen.
Russia’s Defence Ministry said the active phase of the drills would take place at nine sites in Russia and five sites in Belarus.
The exercises involve 200,000 personnel, 80 planes and helicopters, 290 tanks, and 15 naval ships, it says.
Military personnel from Armenia, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Mongolia are also due to participate.
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