Rus­sia launches war games

Ex­er­cises with Be­larus rat­tle NATO mem­bers

Global Times US Edition - - WORLD -

Rus­sia on Thurs­day be­gan ma­jor joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises with Be­larus along the Euro­pean Union’s eastern flank – a show of strength that has rat­tled ner­vous NATO mem­bers.

Named Za­pad-2017 (West-2017), the ma­neu­vers, 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 de­fense min­istry in­sisted the ma­neu­vers are “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 un­der-re­port­ing 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 fu­eled by the “myth about the so-called Rus­sian threat.”

But for NATO al­lies, es­pe­cially jit­tery mem­bers such as Poland and the Baltic States which only broke free from Moscow’s grip 25 years ago, such re­as­sur­ances have not damp­ened sus­pi­cion.

“We have seen be­fore that mil­i­tary ex­er­cises have been used as a dis- guise for ag­gres­sive ac­tions against neigh­bors,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said in an in­ter­view with Rus­sia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency re­leased Thurs­day.

“We don’t see an im­mi­nent threat against any NATO ally, but the best way for Rus­sia to help to re­duce ten­sions and to avoid or pre­vent mis­un­der­stand­ings, mis­cal­cu­la­tions, is to be trans­par­ent.”

Moscow has held a stream of ex­er­cises since ties with the West plunged in 2014 over Ukraine, with the mil­i­tary claim­ing some drills in­cluded nearly 100,000 troops.

Minsk has said the games will role play a con­flict with a made-up rebel re­gion backed by neigh­bor­ing Euro­pean na­tions. Rus­sia says they will sim­u­late as­saults by “ex­trem­ist groups” try­ing to carry out “ter­ror­ist at­tacks.”

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