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NATO, US heedful of Russian Federation war games

17 September 2017

A spokesman of the information department for ideology of the Belarusian Defense Ministry Vladimir Makarov said that the Russian-Belarusian joint military drills Zapad-2017 were not aimed at practicing military operations against Western states, and simulated targets do not in any way represent North Atlantic Treaty Organisation states.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, who often criticizes Russian leaders, said the war games getting underway in Belarus on Thursday are a sign the Kremlin is preparing for conflict with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Now with the recent Russian military exercises in the tension-filled region, the Ukrainian leaders have reached out to the United States government for help.

Russia-West relations have hit their lowest point since the Cold War following Moscow's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and continuing fighting between Russian-backed separatists and troops loyal to Kyiv in eastern Ukraine.

While the Baltic nations fear the Zapad maneuvers may lead to a surprise Russian attack, the exercises have also been criticized by Belarusian opposition leaders.

Oleg Voinov, an adviser to the Belarusian Defense Minister, added: "We are not threatening anyone".

The first phase of Russia-Belarus joint military exercise Zapad-2017 ("West-2017") will be focused on the simulated fight against sabotage-reconnaissance groups of the simulated adversary as well as against illegal armed groups, the Belarusian Defense Ministry said Friday.

Around 12,700 troops are taking part in the drills, of which 7,200 are from Belarus and the remaining 5,500 are from Russian Federation.

A Russian helicopter flies over a training site Tuesday in Belarus
A Russian helicopter flies over a training site Tuesday in Belarus

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told NATO troops in Estonia last week that the alliance will be closely monitoring the war games.

Russia's Defense Ministry said Thursday that elite parachute units in several Russian cities had been placed on alert to be deployed during the exercises.

There is also unease in Kyiv, and Ukraine is now conducting its own military exercises, called "Unflinching Tenacity", scheduled to end Friday.

Zapad 2017 has been described as a possible "Trojan Horse" in which the Russians could launch significant military action. Over the past few days, Ukraine officials have reported that the Russian President has moved thousands of troops near the country's border.

Russian President Vladimir Putin "wants to intimidate the West, intimidate Poland, but nothing will come of it", Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz said, referring to the military manoeuvres.

Others think fears of Russian aggression are out of proportion to the potential threat posed by the war games. "Russians will not seek confrontation, because they know that North Atlantic Treaty Organisation will be watching this event closely and is certainly ready to react", Kestutis Girnius, another Vilnius University political analyst, said.

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NATO, US heedful of Russian Federation war games