Russia holds war games with Belarus as Ukrainian leader warns of all-out war
Russia and former Soviet ally Belarus have launched the “hot phase” of a 3-month-long military exercise involving 200,000 troops — as Ukraine’s president said all-out war with the northern neighbor was possible. The Russian Defense Ministry released video of warships and tanks opening fire and fighter jets taking off. It said the troops had practiced repelling an aerial attack and that it tested S-400 air defense systems on Russian-annexed Crimea, Reuters reported.
The live-fire drills are the culmination of the “Zapad-2021” war games that will run until Thursday on Russia’s and Belarus’ western flanks, including areas near NATO and the European Union’s borders. Mathieu Boulegue, a research fellow at Britain’s Chatham House think tank, said the first three days of the “hot phase” exercises, launched Friday, focused on defending against a Western attack, with the remaining four days devoted to a counter-offensive.
“Zapad-2021” joint military drills of the armed forces of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus at the Mulino army base.AFP PHOTO / Russian Defence Ministry / handoutThe combined forces of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus at Mulino army base near Moscow.AFP PHOTO / Russian Defence Ministry / handoutRussia and former Soviet ally Belarus have launched the “hot phase” of a 3-month-long military exercise involving 200,000 troops.AFP PHOTO / Russian Defence Ministry / handoutRussian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu attends the main stage of the Zapad-2021.EPA/ALEXEI DRUZHININ / KREMLIN POOL/SPUTNIK / POOL
Ukraine and NATO members Poland and Lithuania say such large-scale exercises so close to the border risked being provocative. On Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said all-out war with Russia was a possibility, and that he wanted to have a substantive meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, according to Reuters.
Asked at the Yalta European Strategy summit about the possibility of war with Russia, which seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and backs pro-Russian separatists, Zelenskiy said: “I think there can be.”
Ukraine and NATO members Poland and Lithuania say such large-scale exercises so close to the border risked being provocative.AFP PHOTO / Russian Defence Ministry / handoutRussian President Vladimir Putin (right) sits with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu as they watch the joint exercise.Sergei Savostyanov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via APA Russian BM-21 Grad, a Soviet truck-mounted 122mm multiple rocket launcher, firing during the joint military exercise.EPA/RUSSIAN DEFENCE MINISTRY PRESS SERVICE/HANDOUTRussia said troops had practiced repelling an aerial attack and that it tested S-400 air defense systems on Russian-annexed Crimea.AFP PHOTO / Russian Defence Ministry / handout
He added in Ukrainian: “It’s the worst thing that could happen, but unfortunately there is that possibility.” Tensions between Kyiv and Moscow spiked this year when fighting in eastern Ukraine intensified and Russia massed more troops near the border. Putin denied that the military drills are directed against any foreign power and said they are sensible given increased NATO activity near Russia’s borders and those of its allies.
The live-fire drills are the culmination of the war games that will run until September 16, 2021, on Russia’s and Belarus’ western flanks.AFP PHOTO / Russian Defence Ministry / handoutUkrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is concerned that the games will likely lead to a full-out confrontation with Russia.EPA/RUSSIAN DEFENCE MINISTRY PRESS SERVICE/HANDOUTAccording to the Russian Defense Ministry, the drills involve include 200,000 troops, 80 aircraft, 290 tanks and 15 ships.EPA/RUSSIAN DEFENCE MINISTRY PRESS SERVICE/HANDOUTVladimir Putin (2nd left), Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (center left) and chief of the general staff of Russian armed forces Valery Gerasimov (left) visit the Mulino training ground.Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
The exercises are held every four years, but this year’s drill has been seen as a sign of Russia’s support for Belarus and its leader, Alexander Lukashenko, whom the West has ostracized for cracking down on dissent.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said the active phase of the drills — which include 200,000 troops, 80 aircraft, 290 tanks and 15 ships — would take place at nine sites in Russia and five sites in Belarus.
Forces from Armenia, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia also were due to take part.
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