Lithuania plays down threat of Russia-Belarus Zapad military exercise

Estonia to send observers to Zapad exercise

In a controversial mock battle, Russia, along with Belarus, a dictatorship serving as one of Russia's only regional allies, will spend six days fighting against the fictional state of Veishnoriya.

Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, spoke with Baltic ambassadors about the issue and they told him that the number of soldiers involved in Zapad-2017 is higher than in the past.

Military analysts see such war games as a possible rehearsal for a Russia-NATO armed conflict as it is taking place very close to an area that analysts consider to be the most likely target of a Russian offensive.

The danger has increased "This is part of a pattern, which we've seen developed over several years with a more asserted Russian Federation, a Russia which has tripled defense spending over the last years, which is using force against neighbors and which is exercising much more modern capabilities in a more aggressive way", Stoltenberg said.

Speculation that the Zapad 2017 exercises are much larger than Russian Federation has announced led to calls for more transparency.

Thousands of Russian and Belarusian troops are set to participate in the weeklong Zapad-2017 military exercises starting Thursday in Belarus.

The exercises also involve firing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation claims, and officials say the drills will simulate a conflict with the US-led alliance meant to show Russia's ability to mass large numbers of troops at very short notice in the event of a conflict. Some 140 tanks, up to 150 artillery and air defence units and more than 40 planes and helicopters will participate.

Estonia to send observers to Zapad exercise

The Zapad 2017 exercises were launched on Thursday Sept. 14 and involve 12,700 troops according to Russian Federation. Some NATO members, including the Baltic states and Poland, have criticized a lack of transparency about the exercises and questioned Moscow's real intentions. That geographic reality isn't lost on officials, many of whom have already expressed concern over the exercise.

Lithuania's president has called the drills "open preparation for war with the west".

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has warned that Zapad-2017 (Russian for "West") could be a prelude for an invasion of Ukraine. According to the drills scenario, extremist groups supported with arms and supplies from outside have penetrated to Belarus and Russia's Kaliningrad Region to carry out terrorist attacks. "We reject complaints of these exercises not being transparent", said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

But Byden, speaking as USA and French forces displayed mobile surface-to-air missile systems to be deployed during the exercise, stressed the importance of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation for Sweden.

There will also be an additional six-week deployment of three companies of 120 paratroopers to each of the three Baltic countries for "low-level" exercises. "Everything is being held in line with global law". In the time since, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation exercises have ramped up, as have European military drills more generally.

Sweden - not a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member - has also launched a military exercise, its biggest for 20 years, called Aurora 17.

The authorities in Minsk have invited military observers and defense attachés from a large number of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and non-NATO countries as well as from worldwide organizations such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Red Cross and a large number of Western media to observe portions of the exercise.

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