Rus­sian mil­i­tary drills rat­tle Nato mem­bers

The Herald (South Africa) - - WORLD - Max De­lany

RUS­SIA be­gan ma­jor joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises with Be­larus along the Euro­pean Union’s eastern flank yes­ter­day in a show of strength that has rat­tled ner­vous Nato mem­bers.

Named Za­pad-2017 (West-2017), the ma­noeu­vres, sched­uled to last un­til Septem­ber 20, are tak­ing place on the ter­ri­tory of Moscow’s clos­est ally Be­larus, in Rus­sia’s Euro­pean ex­clave of Kalin­ingrad and in its fron­tier Pskov and Len­ingrad re­gions.

Moscow says the drills will in­volve 12 700 troops, 70 air­craft, 250 tanks and 10 bat­tle­ships test­ing their fire­power against an imag­i­nary foe close to bor­ders with Poland and the Baltic States.

In a state­ment an­nounc­ing the start of the ex­er­cises, Rus­sia’s de­fence min­istry in­sisted the ma­noeu­vres were “of a strictly de­fen­sive na­ture and are not directed against any other state or group of coun­tries”.

But Nato claims Rus­sia has kept it in the dark and seems to be mas­sively un­der­re­port­ing the scale of the ex­er­cises, which some of the al­liance’s eastern mem­bers in­sist could see more than 100 000 ser­vice­men take part.

The war games come with ten­sions be­tween Rus­sia and Nato at their high­est since the Cold War due to the Krem­lin’s med­dling in Ukraine and the US-led al­liance bol­ster­ing its forces in eastern Europe.

Moscow has dis­missed fears over the drills – the lat­est in a se­ries of an­nual ex­er­cises that ro­tate around the vast coun­try – as fu­elled by the “myth about the so­called ‘Rus­sian threat”.

The Rus­sian war games come as Ukraine launched an­nual joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises with the US and other Nato coun­tries on Mon­day.

Mean­while, non-aligned Swe­den has mo­bilised 19 000 sol­diers for its big­gest drills in 20 years, which also in­clude units from across Scan­di­navia and the US.

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