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Zapad 2017 drills begin in Russian Federation and Belarus

Zapad 2017 drills begin in Russian Federation and Belarus

Russian Federation and its neighbor Belarus are holding a massive joint-military exercise, Zapad 2017, that begins Thursday near the borders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

"The Zapad 2017 joint strategic exercises are being supervised by the Chiefs of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and Belarus and represent the final stage of joint training of the two states' Armed Forces", the statement said.

The most recent Zapad exercises, which occur every few years, took place in 2013, just before Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea.

The US military commander in Europe, Lt General Ben Hodges, echoed such concerns in an interview this summer, admitting that: "people are anxious this is a Trojan horse".

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is closely watching the exercises and says they are larger than the 12,700 servicemen Moscow has publicised, numbering actually some 100,000 troops, and involve firing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.

Troops from non-NATO Finland will also attend along with NATO soldiers from Denmark, Norway, France, Estonia, Lithuania and the United States.

The exercises that Russian Federation is conducting with its Eastern European ally, Belarus, have attracted intense attention amid nervousness over Moscow's recent military adventures and its tensions with the West.

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"The Zapad" exercise, jointly organized by Russian Federation and Belarus have already started, from 14 to 20 September 2017, in which T-14 Armata tanks and advanced air defense and electronic warfare equipment would be used for the first time.

Both Moscow and Minsk have said repeatedly that the exercises are not a danger for neighboring countries.

Codenamed Zapad or "West", NATO officials say the drills will simulate a conflict with the US-led alliance meant to show Russia's ability to mass large numbers of troops at very short notice in the event of a conflict. The Ministry of Defence does not have information regarding the extent of the access that observers will have to the drills.

'We can't be totally calm. "There is a large foreign army massed next to Lithuanian territory", he told Reuters news agency. However, NATO commanders fear the exercise will be much broader than that and is created to provoke the West amid ongoing tensions.

Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis said "we should not succumb to intimidation", describing Zapad as an attempt to make the Baltic states feel insecure.

He added that the drill is part of a "pattern of a more assertive Russia" that has shown it was "willing to use military force against its neighbours", referring to Russia's invasion of Georgia in 2008 and its covert invasion of Ukraine three years ago.

"Therefore, before this period and after activity increased", - said Grybauskaite. "So obviously we are closely watching what Russian Federation is doing". Non-NATO member Sweden has chose to strengthen its armed forces after spending has fallen to about 1 percent after it accounted for more than two percent of economic output in the early 1990s and began to reintroduce the compulsory recruitment system.


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