Russia, Belarus kick off large-scale joint military exercise

Russia and Belarus on Thursday launched a joint exercise with aircraft, armored units and warships aimed at countering simulated aggression by three fictitious Western countries. Russia's Defense Ministry said "Zapad-17" involves almost 13,000 Russian and Belarussian troops. Defense officials from the two countries have claimed the exercise targets hypothetical opponents, but experts believe Moscow and Minsk are using it to prepare for the possibility of future conflicts with NATO member states, or of threats from within Belarus. "The drill is a threat to us, no matter what Russia says," Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz said in a TV interview. "It is far from being defensive, it is aggressive and this is dangerous." Zapad-17 is scheduled to end on September 20.

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