Russian-led forces are staging joint military exercises in Belarus near the border with Poland, weeks after President Vladimir Putin warned Warsaw that he would treat any “aggression” toward Minsk as an attack on his own country.
(Bloomberg) — Russian-led forces are staging joint military exercises in Belarus near the border with Poland, weeks after President Vladimir Putin warned Warsaw that he would treat any “aggression” toward Minsk as an attack on his own country.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization, an alliance of six former Soviet states, is beginning the drills Friday through Sept. 6. Belarus is hosting the war games including some in the Brest and Grodno regions that border Poland, with some 2,500 troops set to participate, the state-run Belta news service reported.
One of the main goals of the maneuvers is to practice using drones and to test air defense capabilities to counter them, General Anatoly Sidorov, head of the CSTO Joint Staff, said, according to Belta. The forces also plan to rehearse responses to chemical and radioactive contamination.
Russia faced drone attacks this week in multiple regions of the country, one of the broadest retaliatory strikes so far against the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine. Putin demanded a strengthening of air defenses in May against drone assaults that Russia blames on Ukraine, which generally doesn’t comment on the attacks.
Putin Warns Poland Over ‘Aggression’ Against Ally Belarus
The drills in Belarus help Moscow project an image of regional support despite widespread international condemnation of its war in Ukraine, the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II. Alongside Russia and Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Armenia are members of the CSTO.
Still, many of Russia’s neighbors that share strong ties with Moscow have distanced themselves from the war. Kazakhstan, last year criticized Russia’s move to annex occupied territory in eastern and southern Ukraine. Armenia isn’t taking part in this month’s exercises after earlier being angered at a lack of Russian support in its conflict with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The drills are taking place with North Atlantic Treaty Organization members Poland, Lithuania and Latvia on alert at a time when relations are already tense after Wagner group mercenaries decamped to Belarus following their mutiny in Russia. All three NATO states are among Ukraine’s biggest supporters in the war with Russia.
Polish officials warned of a “new phase of hybrid warfare” over Wagner’s presence amid fears its fighters may attempt to cross the border. The government in Warsaw said in July it plans to increase its military presence close to the border with Belarus as well as to build new defenses there.
Poland Says Wagner Mercenaries May Try to Cross From Belarus
The mercenary group’s future in Belarus is now in doubt after its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin died in a plane crash last week.
Putin announced in March that Russia would base tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus and said it had started delivering the weapons three months later. Belarus also allowed Russia to use its territory to stage part of its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
Putin Says Belarus Got First Russian Nuclear Weapons as Planned
The last joint CSTO exercises were held in Kazakhstan in October 2022.
Russia has likely canceled another major military exercise with Belarus that was scheduled to take place later in September, the UK Defence Ministry said earlier this week, suggesting the Kremlin has too few troops and equipment available as a result of the war.
The last time those war games, known as Zapad, took place was in 2021 and involved the deployment of as many as 200,000 troops as Russia began amassing forces for its invasion.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in December that staging this year’s Zapad exercises was a key task for the military, according to the state-run Tass news service. There’s been little sign of any preparations to hold the drills, however.
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