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Jitters in Europe as Russia-Belarus War Games Set to Begin
17 September 2017, 10:17 | Erica Roy
Russia accuses West of 'whipping up hysteria' over military drills in eastern Europe
General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of Russia's general staff, told Curtis Scaparrotti, a U.S general who is NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, that Moscow's latest military exercise was purely defensive, the RIA news agency reported.
Concerns in the Western alliance were raised by the apparent difference between official Russian figures about the size of the exercise - 12,700 troops and 680 pieces of military equipment, including 138 tanks - and Western estimates, based on troop and equipment movements, that the number could range from 70,000 to as many as 100,000 participants.
North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is closely watching the exercises and says they are larger than the 12,700 servicemen Moscow has publicized, actually numbering some 100,000 troops, and involve firing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.
Russia-West relations nosedived to their lowest level since the Cold War in recent years after Moscow's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and its support of separatists fighting the Ukrainian government in eastern Ukraine, clashes that have left over 10,000 people dead. Russian Federation and Belarus began major war games last Thursday, an operation involving thousands of troops, tanks and aircraft on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's eastern edge practicing how to hunt down and destroy armed spies, among other maneuvers.
"The degree of mobilization is really impressive", Mr. Soloch said on private Radio Zet.
At a time of renewed Cold War-style tension between Russian Federation and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the symbolism was striking, according to The Washington Post.
Earlier this week Jens Stoltenberg, NATO general secretary, said Russian Federation has every right to hold drills, but accused it of using "loopholes" to avoid scrutiny. The stipulation is part of the country's military doctrine, reminded the press secretary of the Belarusian Defense Ministry. The Baltic States and Poland fear that these monikers are just poorly disguised terms for their own countries. There is also concern that the exercise will be used as an excuse to permanently deploy Russian troops in Belarus.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, who often criticizes Russian leaders, said the war games are a sign the Kremlin is preparing for conflict with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. "It is an open preparation for war with the West", Grybauskaite told reporters.
There is also unease in Kiev, and Ukraine is now conducting its own military exercises.
"On Monday the president will attend the Zapad 2017 strategic exercise".
Russian Federation has accused the West of "whipping up hysteria" over large-scale military exercises underway in eastern Europe, denying charges that they were being conducted with a lack of transparency.
Russian President Vladimir Putin may visit one of the stages of these drills, he said.
"Worries over Zapad are overkill".
Information for this article was contributed by David Filipov, Ishaan Tharoor and Michael Birnbaum of The Washington Post; and by Yuras Karmanau of The Associated Press.
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