The joint 7-day Belarus-Russia military exercise Zapad 2017 has begun on 14 September.
It will involve 12,700 military personnel, 70 warplanes and helicopters, and up to 680 units of military hardware.
Number of participants
About 10,200 military personnel will be deployed in Belarus, with the country contributing slightly over 7,000 people and Russia – about 3,000 soldiers.
The Belarusian part of the exercise will involve 370 armored cars, including about 140 tanks.
Up to 150 artillery units and multiple-launch rocket systems, over 40 aircraft and helicopters will be deployed as well.
Russian troops must leave Belarus before 30 September, and Belarusian troops and armament are to return to the places of their permanent deployment before this date.
Where will drills take place
The exercises will be held at 8 sites. The main locations are the training areas Ruzhansky, Domanovo, Osipovichi, Borisov, Lepelsky and Losvido.
Part of the exercises will be held at Glubokoe and Dretun areas in Vitebsk region.
The Chief of the General Staff Oleg Belokonev stressed that the army had deliberately chosen training areas located far from the border.
How Belarus’ neighbors reacted
Almost all countries neighboring Belarus were expressing concern about Zapad 2017 for several months.
Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland and Ukraine believe that Russia can use the exercise to occupy Belarus, invade Ukraine, train for a big war with NATO. Other fears were connected with the probability of Russian troops remaining in Belarus after the exercises.
Belarus has refuted these fears.
Who will observe Zapad 2017
Belarus invited more than 80 international observers from the UN, the OSCE, the CSTO, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Poland, the Baltic States, Scandinavian states and Ukraine, as well as military attaches accredited in Minsk.
In addition to the military and experts, the exercises will be watched by journalists of the foreign media. The Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs received about 270 applications for accreditation.
In Belarus, many people believe that the ongoing exercises are an excuse for a “soft occupation” and that Russia will not withdraw its troops once they get on the territory of Belarus.
However, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg as well as military experts consider such a scenario unlikely.