Belarus is inviting “a large number of observers” to the upcoming Zapad 2017 joint military exercises with Russia which have been a cause for concern for Ukraine and NATO states, reported by BelTA with reference to statements by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko at a meeting with the leaders of the Security Council’s State Secretariat.
“The exercises are open; we are inviting and have already invited a large number of observers. Come, look,” Lukashenko said.
Lukashenko mentioned that he had discussed the topic of the drills during his talks with President Petro Poroshenko last week.
Despite the fact that for the last few years Minsk has been trying to improve its relations with the West, it is one of Moscow’s key allies and a member of the Collective Security Treaty organization.
The joint Russian-Belarusian Zapad 2017 drills are scheduled to take place between the 14th and the 20th of September in Belarusian territory. Plans are for the exercises to involve as many as 12,700 military personnel, including roughly 3,000 from the Russian Armed Forces as well as 680 items of military equipment. This is the largest joint operational training event of the Russian and Belarusian armed forces.
Eastern European NATO states and Ukraine expressed concern earlier regarding the exercises planned for September, fearing that they could be used for provocation against neighbors. Several politicians and soldiers have said that in the Zapad 2017 exercises up to 100,000 people could be mobilized, and that the drills could be used as a screen for deploying Russian forces in Belarus.