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Zapad-2017 strategic exercise kicks off in Russia and Belarus

The drills involve about 12,700 servicemen, 70 warplanes and helicopters, and up to 680 units of military hardware, including 250 tanks

MOSCOW, September 14. /TASS/. The Zapad-2017 (or West 2017) joint Russian-Belarusian military drills have kicked off in the two countries, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.

"Heads of military administrative bodies and commanders of units involved in the drills have received instructions from the General Staff of the Union State concerning their training tasks," the statement reads.

The drills involve up to 12,700 troops, including 7,200 Belarusian and around 5,500 Russian troops, with up to 3,000 of them deployed to Belarus.

"Staged tactical events and live firing exercises, involving aircraft and air defense units, will take place at the Lepelsky, Losvido, Borisovsky, Osipovichesky, Ruzhansky and Domanovsky training ranges, as well as in the Dretun area in Belarus, and also at the Luzhsky, Strugi Krasnye and Pravdinsky training ranges in Russia.

The Russian and Belarusian chiefs of General Staff are in charge of the drills that constitute the final stage of the joint training program of the Russian and Belarusian Armed Forces. The drills are purely defensive and not aimed against any countries, the Russian Defense Ministry stressed.

"The main goals are to improve interoperability among the military staff, harmonize troops management systems and provide commanders of various levels of importance with an opportunity to train their skills in planning military events and managing troops based on the experience received during modern armed conflicts," the Russian Defense Ministry added.

The drills will be "the biggest army training event in the current year," Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said.

The joint drills Zapad-2017 will be held at six training grounds in Russia and Belarus in the period from September 14 through 20. They will involve about 12,700 servicemen, about 70 warplanes and helicopters, up to 680 units of military hardware, including about 250 tanks, up to 200 artillery and multiple missile launcher systems and mortars, and ten warships.

"The exercises are geared to drill joint actions of our armed forces in the interests of military security of the Union State [of Russia and Belarus]," Shoigu said.

The main aim of the Zapad-2017 exercise is to ensure security of the Union State with a regional grouping of troops, said Colonel General Andrei Kartapolov, commander of Russia’s Western Military District.

The regional force will counter conditional extremist groups penetrating into the territory of the Union State for terrorism-related activities. The extremists presumably receive material and technical support, as well as armaments and military hardware by air and sea.

"In conditions of a rapidly changing situation troops command will be mastered, as well as their interaction and all-round provision, defense of important state and military facilities located in Kaliningrad region and the Republic of Belarus," the commander said in an interview with the Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper.

According to Kartapolov, modern approaches to the engagement of troops based on the experience of local wars and armed conflicts, including in Syria, were used to design the exercise legend.

The Russian defense ministry has been repeatedly stressing that the Zapad-2017 drills have purely defensive character and media allegations about the "Russian threat" these drills are posing have nothing to do with the real state of things.

"The world’s leading media (and politicians) have been heating up public opinion by myths of the "Russian threat." None of this paradoxical theories has anything to do with the reality and this has been repeatedly stressed by both Russian and Belarusian officials," Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said earlier.

"It is evident that those countries seeking to exacerbate the situation as much as possible ahead of the exercises make various unfounded accusations," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Meshkov said. "These are those countries that impede contacts of military from our states."