Russia has insisted it is not planning a surprise invasion on Poland, Lithuania and the Ukraine after sending thousands of troops to Europe ahead of planned war games.
The Kremlin said on Tuesday the large-scale exercise in Belarus would rehearse a purely defensive scenario and that allegations it was a springboard to invade were false.
Ahead of the Zapad 2017 exercise, Moscow has said it sent 5,500 troops into the country which borders Poland, Lithuania and the Ukraine to join 7,200 Belarusian soldiers as well as 700 pieces of military equipment.
But experts have warned the true figure of troops could be nearer 100,000, prompting the US to send 600 soldiers to the area as a precautionary.
Russian paratroopers march during the celebrations of Paratroopers Day in the Red Square in Moscow, Russia, on August 2. The Russian military says major war games, the Zapad 2017 maneuvers, set for next month will not threaten anyone
Almost 700 pieces of military hardware will be deployed, including almost 250 tanks, 10 ships and various artillery and rocket systems
Russian soldiers compete during a team’s run at the Army Scout Masters competition, part of Army Games, outside Novosibirsk, 2900 km (some 1800 miles) east of Moscow, Russia. The main event – the Zapad 2017 – will take place from September 14 to 20 in Belarus
Russia has used such exercises in the past as a precursor or as a cover to project force in other countries such as Georgia and Ukraine, and the war games are taking place at a time when East-West tensions are high.
Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, the US Army’s top general in Europe, said last month that US allies in eastern Europe and Ukraine were worried the exercises could be a Trojan horse aimed at leaving behind military equipment brought into Belarus.
The fears are not unsubstantiated, given that the Russians invaded the Ukrainian peninsular of Crimea in March 2014.
Vladimir Putin’s officials have denied invasion rumours
And NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who has warned that ‘substantially more’ troops may take part than will be officially divulged, said last week the alliance would be watching closely.
Russian Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin told Western military attaches in Moscow on Tuesday the West had nothing to fear.
‘Some people are even going as far as to say that the Zapad-2017 exercises will be used as a springboard to invade and occupy Lithuania, Poland or Ukraine,’Fomin said.
‘Not a single one of these paradoxical versions has anything to do with reality.’
He called suggestions that Russia posed a threat to anyone ‘myths’.
The drills, which will be held from September 14 to 20 in Belarus, western Russia and Russia’s exclave of Kaliningrad, will simulate repelling an attack by extremist groups.
Fomin, who said the drills were routine and conducted every other year with ally Belarus, added: ‘As well as its anti-terrorist backdrop, the Zapad 2017 exercise is of a purely defensive nature.’.
Moscow says almost 13,000 Russian and Belarussian servicemen will take part, as well as around 70 planes and helicopters.
Almost 700 pieces of military hardware will be deployed, including almost 250 tanks, 10 ships and various artillery and rocket systems.
Ahead of the Zapad 2017 exercise, Moscow has said it sent 5,500 troops into the country which borders Poland, Lithuania and the Ukraine to join 7,200 Belarusian soldiers as well as 700 pieces of military equipment
A soldier takes his gun off his neck. Russia has said it is sending 5,500 troops to Belarus to join their 7,200, but experts have warned the figure could be closer to 100,000
A self-propelled gun destroyer 2S25 Sprut-SD fires during the International military forum Army 2016 in Alabino, outside Moscow, Russia
Russia said the scale of the exercise was in line with international rules.
With less than 13,000 troops, international observation of the drills was not mandatory, it said.
Belarusian Deputy Defence Minister Oleg Belokonev, speaking in Minsk, said any troops and equipment brought into Belarus for the war games would be withdrawn afterwards.