MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko reviewed on Sunday large joint military drills with Russia and said his country planned to buy more than $1 billion worth of arms from Moscow.
The live fire drills are the culmination of the “Zapad-2021” war games, and will run until next Thursday on Russia’s and Belarus’s western flanks. Some sites are close to NATO and the European Union’s borders, and their proximity has unsettled neighbours including Ukraine and Poland.
Close ties between ex-Soviet Minsk and Moscow helped Lukashenko weather the largest mass protests of his 27-year rule last year, and Russia has also supported him in the face of ongoing sanctions from Western powers which accuse him of rigging elections in August 2020 and cracking down on the opposition. Lukashenko has denied rigging the vote.
“This is one of the most important training events for the armed forces, which takes place against the backdrop of ongoing hybrid aggression by the West against Belarus and Russia,” Lukashenko was quoted by the Belta news agency as saying.
An image published by Belta showed Lukashenko in green military uniform watching the drills at Obuz-Lesnovsky training ground.
Photo A handout photo made available by the Russian Defence Ministry press service shows paratroopers of the Ulyanovsk separate airborne assault formation attend of the Zapad-2021 (West-2021) joint Russian-Belarusian drills on the airfield ‘Savasleika’ in the Nizhny Novgorod region, Russia, 11 September 2021. The exercises take place in Russia and Belarus from 10 to 16 September. the Russian Ministry of Defense said that the Zapad-2021 (West-2021) military exercises will be defensive in nature. Up to 200 thousand personnel, about 80 aircraft and helicopters, up to 760 units of military equipment, including 290 tanks, 240 guns, multiple launch rocket systems and mortars, as well as up to 15 ships take part in the exercises on the territory of the Russian Federation and Belarus. EPA-EFE/RUSSIAN DEFENCE MINISTRY PRESS SERVICE HANDOUT