Russian-Belarusian war games start, neighbours anxious

US troops take part in Ukrainian military exercise

Amid icy relations with the U.S., Russian Federation launched joint military exercises with Belarus on Thursday in what outsiders are hoping provide clues to Russia's current firepower and agility.

On Monday, Belarusian army vehicles prepare for war games at an undisclosed location in Belarus.

Russia holds large-scale exercises are held every four years - since 1999 - and rotate through four operational strategic commands of the Russian Armed Forces (Western, Eastern, Caucus and Central).

But Russia's covert annexation of Crimea in 2014, which was masked by military exercises, has changed perspectives.

While NATO's increased presence in the Baltic and the threat of more severe sanctions means Russian Federation is unlikely to attempt to seize further territory from Ukraine or from neighbouring NATO members, the West will be watching cautiously.

What messages do the drills send?

But for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and its 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.

"Therefore, before this period and after activity increased", - said Grybauskaite. As of Thursday morning, Russian tank divisions said they were moving to Belarus for the exercises. After these military preparations many troops stayed in the area to participate in the subsequent war with Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has dismissed claims of insufficient transparency of the ongoing Russia-Belarus Zapad-2017 military drills as a provocation.

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However, NATO officials say the number of troops is much larger than Moscow has publicised, closer to 100,000.

Hodges and other USA and European officials have stressed that the current exercises are probably just drills.

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".

If Russia was planning a major offensive move, one might expect to see elements of its powerful Northern Fleet joining in the exercise.

"The drill is a threat to us, no matter what Russian Federation says", he told Polish TV. "But I am sure that very soon, there will also be a future", he said.

Sweden, meanwhile, is holding its own three-week military exercises in the Baltic Sea with 20,000 troops, including 1,000 USA soldiers.

The danger has increased "This is part of a pattern, which we've seen developed over several years with a more asserted Russian Federation, a Russia which has tripled defense spending over the last years, which is using force against neighbors and which is exercising much more modern capabilities in a more aggressive way", Stoltenberg said.

The aftermath of Zapad-17 in Belarus may well become the litmus test of Russian President Vladimir Putin's ultimate intentions in the post-Soviet sphere.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has close ties to Russian Federation, though there have been periodic disputes over trade.

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