Russia, Belarus launch joint military exercise amid tensions with West

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The Zapad exercise is held every four years in rotation with drills in other parts of Russian Federation. But no less important is the message these games seek to send to the world: the Russian military, almost three decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, is once again a force to be feared. Steps to draw up a scenario for the drills took account of modern approaches to the application of forces on the basis of modern armed-conflict experience as well as joint measures of the Russian and Belarusian Armed Forces' operational training, the statement said.

Poland has expressed fears the manoeuvres are practice for a future invasion, meant to expand the Russian Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad - located between Poland and Lithuania.

Western officials raise concerns Moscow may use drills as a "Trojan horse" to make incursions into Poland and Baltics.

That analogy seems somewhat strained. They are being conducted on the territory of Moscow's closest ally Belarus, in Russia's European exclave of Kaliningrad and in its frontier Pskov and Leningrad regions. They say Russian Federation could use the occasion to position a large, permanent contingent of troops in Belarus, leaving the country at the mercy of any armed confrontation involving Moscow.

The exercises involve up to 12,700 troops, 70 warplanes and helicopters, 680 units of military equipment, including about 250 tanks, 200 guns, numerous rocket launchers and mortars and 10 warships, the ministry said.

German armed forces reduces the number of soldiers participating in NATO's trainings in eastern Europe this year.

Those numbers are still a fraction of what such drills involved during the Cold War.

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Perhaps the most plausible scenario worrying Western military planners is that the thousands of Russian troops moving into Belarus for the exercises will never go home.

"We believe that the wave of hysteria around these exercises is absolutely provocative, as it is a common practice, it is the right of any country and the usual practice of carrying out such exercises".

The Zapad 2017 drills are scheduled to run until September 20 in Belarus as well as on the Baltic Sea, in western Russian Federation, and in Russia's Kaliningrad region, close to the Polish border and those of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Hodges and other US and European officials have stressed that the current exercises are probably just drills.

One senior European security official said Zapad would merge manoeuvres across Russia's four western military districts in a "complex, multidimensional, aggressive, anti-NATO exercise".

The West 2017 wide-ranging strategic exercise started on Thursday in Russian Federation and Belarus.

In line with the "Russian aggression" narrative, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has also voiced suspicion that the war games could be used to move forces and equipment closer to NATO's eastern flank - an accusation which both Russia and Belarus have denied. And judging by the level of alarm in Europe over Russia's latest round of war games, this tactic of intimidation appears to be working just fine.

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