Belarus-Russia Drills to Continue 'No Matter How Much West Pushes'
18:43 14.06.2017(updated 19:10 14.06.2017)
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has confirmed that his country will take part in the Zapad-2017 joint drills with Russia this fall, no matter how much external pressure is brought to bear against Minsk.
The joint Russian-Belarusian Zapad-2017 exercises will take place September 14-20, simulating a NATO invasion of Russian and Belarusian territory.
Ahead of the drills, anonymous US officials indicated that the US military would increase the number of troops it has deployed in the Baltic region to monitor the exercises.
Earlier, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite claimed that Zapad-2017 "demonstrates the preparation of Belarus and Russia to wage war with the West." Lithuanian officials have also warned that the drills would give Russia a 24-48 hour window to mobilize and invade the Baltics. Russian officials called the claims "hysterical Russophobia." Polish and Ukrainian officials also saw fit to speculate about the 'true purpose' of the drills (which take place once every four years). The Polish defense minister even suggested that Russian troops might stay in Belarus after the drills' end, a claim that Russia's ambassador to Belarus dismissed.
Commenting on the speculation surrounding the drills at a meeting with defense ministers from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) on Tuesday, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko described the rumors as "noise."
"There is too much noise, although I can't understand why, around the large-scale Belarusian-Russian exercises taking place in Belarus this fall," Lukashenko said. "But no matter how much we are squeezed, we will hold these exercises. We aim to make them massive, and very serious. I know that Russia shares this sentiment," he added.
Lukashenko emphasized that Russia and Belarus were not trying "to scare anyone" with the drills, but were simply working out a response to the strategy and tactics of the countries' potential NATO adversaries.
The Belarusian president promised to invite CSTO defense ministers, and others, to observe the drills. "These drills will be open," he said. "Let them observe our capabilities. We are very serious about making the drills on Belarusian territory highly effective, and will try to give them a large and diverse character, so that our militaries –those of Russia and Belarus, get a sense for what it is they are protecting, and what obligations are laid out before them."
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