Military exercises between Russia and Belarus raise concerns in the West

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Russian update

Western defense officials warned that Russia plans to conduct military exercises with Belarus this week to deepen its control of the armed forces of neighboring countries and enhance its military capabilities on the borders of NATO member states.

Seven days Zapad-2021 exerciseBeginning on Friday, tests involving tens of thousands of soldiers and conventional and strategic weapons from both countries were used to simulate conflicts with Western enemies, and at a time when the Kremlin was under increasing pressure for deeper integration with Minsk.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: “Zapad fits into a broader model: a more confident Russia that significantly enhances its military capabilities and military presence near our borders.”

The exercises that have been held every four years in recent decades were carried out after a few months of accumulation in Russia without warning. About 100,000 people, Tanks, aircraft and ships are close to the Ukrainian border. Moscow stated that this was an unexpected exercise to test the preparations of the army, but most of the military equipment was still close to the border, shocking the capitals of Western countries. They thought it was a permanent build-up of force.

In recent years, Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for more in-depth political, economic, and defense cooperation with Belarus, and in the past year has provided various financial assistance to the embattled leader of the country, Alexander Lukashenko.

Western military officials stated that the Kremlin’s increasing influence over Minsk, coupled with the deepening interoperability of the defense equipment and joint training of the two countries, effectively transferred Russia’s military capabilities 650 kilometers westward to the The borders of Poland.

“Russia hopes that they can bridge all the gaps that definitely exist in command and control… This is part of the whole process. [Zapad] Things are built around,” a senior western intelligence official told the Financial Times.

“Obviously, the integration that Russia seeks… is to give them greater control over the whole [military] Dynamic,” the official said. “This is a stable ratchet. “

The official added that a major red flag for the Western military is if any Russian troops or equipment “stay there forever if they are permanently integrated.” “If the exercise is over and the troops do not go home, it is very important… Similar to the situation around Ukraine this summer: what is left?”

Both Putin and Lukashenko said that the exercise was not aimed at any foreign enemy, but because what they said was justified Strengthen NATO military activities Along their borders. In May and June, 28,000 soldiers from NATO countries participated in the European Defenders exercises held by the alliance in 16 countries in Southern and Eastern Europe, which aroused the anger of the Kremlin.

Kalle Laanet, the Minister of Defense of Estonia, stated that this year’s quadrennial exercise was eye-catching due to the delivery of “large amounts” of heavy equipment to Belarus and the deployment of Russian troops in five different Belarusian regions.

“The increasingly authoritarian Belarus is a vassal of the Kremlin anyway. Alexander Lukashenko can no longer reject the proposal of his savior, Vladimir Putin,” Lanett told the country’s state news agency on Saturday. Said in a statement.

The Zapad war game, which will end on Thursday, involves remote-controlled Platform-M combat robots equipped with grenade launchers and machine guns. According to a Russian news agency, this is the first time they have been used.

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