Putin watches war games with Belarus that are worrying neighbors

MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin has observed military exercises being carried out in coordination with Belarus, which have raised concerns in neighboring countries.

Putin attended exercises on Monday at a training ground in the Nizhny Novgorod region, 450 kilometers east of Moscow. According to the Defense Ministry, the exercises included the first use in a combat environment of two new robotic combat vehicles equipped with machine guns and grenade launchers.

A total of around 200,000 soldiers are involved in the Zapad (West) -2021 exercises, which are being carried out at several locations in Russia and Belarus, including troops from Armenia, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia.

Foreign ministers of Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia on Monday expressed concern about the maneuvers, saying Russia was not transparent about them and noted that they are occurring amid heightened Western tensions with Belarus.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied these concerns, saying that “joint military exercises are a regular process”.

The exercises opened last week on the same day that Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met and announced new steps to integrate their countries’ economies.

Russian support for Belarus worries neighboring countries who claim Belarus is trying to destabilize them by encouraging migrants from the Middle East and Africa to come and then supposedly driving them to its borders with EU countries Lithuania, Latvia and Poland .

The migrant problem arose after Western countries imposed sanctions on Belarus for its harsh repression of the opposition and crackdown on independent news media in the wake of the massive protests against Lukashenko last year.

The protests began when Lukashenko was given a sixth term in office after a presidential election that the West and opposition officials called a sham.

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Follow all AP stories about developments in Belarus at https://apnews.com/hub/Belarus.

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