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Zapad 2017 Joint Strategic Drills Start in Russia, Belarus - Russian MoD

Zapad 2017 Joint Strategic Drills Start in Russia, Belarus - Russian MoD

Ukraine will be sent to Belarus two verifiers to observe the Russian-Belarusian military exercises Zapad-2017.

The exercise in Ukraine comes as Russia is gearing up for its major military exercise, Zapad 2017, which is expected to involve tens of thousands of troops operating along NATO's borders in Western Russia, the Russian European enclave of Kaliningrad and Belarus.

"This is created to provoke us, it's created to test our defenses and that is why we have to be strong", Britain's Defense Secretary Michael Fallon told the BBC last week.

Russia, meanwhile, has pushed back against what it portrays as Western alarmism over the drills, the first to be held in close proximity to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member states since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

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Moscow has held a stream of exercises since ties with the West plunged in 2014 over Ukraine, with the military claiming some drills included almost 100,000 troops.

Belarus, where the Zapad exercise is set to be held, borders Ukraine as well as North Atlantic Treaty Organisation members Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia.

Russian officials have said that only 13,000 troops will participate but western observers have said that as many as 100,000 Russian and Belorussian forces could be involved.

The Zapad exercise is held every four years in rotation with drills in other parts of Russian Federation.

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Speaking exclusively to CNBC on Thursday, Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, called on Russian Federation to be "transparent" about its military exercises to avoid any "misunderstandings or miscalculations".

The annual Rapid Trident military exercises, taking place in the western Ukrainian city of Yavoriv until September 23, involve an "unprecedented" number of 2,500 soldiers from 15 countries, the Ukrainian military said in a statement.

The Kremlin has vigorously defended its right to hold exercises and has long blamed the United States for ratcheting up tensions by expanding North Atlantic Treaty Organisation up to its borders and holding its own provocative drills.

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