Russia is set to launch major joint military drills with Belarus on Thursday, amid continuing tensions between Moscow and NATO.
The large-scale drills, called Zapad (West) 2017, are scheduled to be held from September 14 to 20 around the Baltic Sea, in western Russia, Belarus, and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
The maneuvers, described by Moscow as “purely defensive,” will involve 12,700 troops, 70 aircraft, 250 tanks, and 10 warships.
NATO claims that Russia is under-reporting the number of troops participating in the drills and that the military exercises could provide cover for a possible permanent relocation of offensive equipment near the Baltic countries. Some of the alliance’s eastern members allege that Moscow has committed more than 100,000 servicemen to the war games, a claim that has been rejected by Russia as flat-out wrong.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has said that the “artificial hype” about the maneuvers is aimed at “justifying the spending on NATO’s military buildup on Poland and the Baltic states in the eyes of the western audience.”
Russia and NATO have had strained ties since conflict erupted in eastern Ukraine some three years ago. More than 10,000 have been killed in the war in Ukraine’s industrial east, where the Kiev government is fighting pro-Russia forces.
Russia has long been wary of NATO’s expansion eastward — toward Russia’s western borders. NATO has deployed around 4,000 troops, consisting of four battle groups, to Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland in recent years.
The US military took part in a training exercise with Baltic allies in June that included B-1 and B-52 bombers and 50 naval ships. Also in July, 25,000 servicemen from 17 countries participated in a NATO training exercise in the Black Sea, which were monitored by members of the Russian military.
Source: Press TV