Russian President Vladimir Putin observed military exercises carried out in coordination with Belarus which have raised concerns in border countries.
Putin attended exercises on Monday at a training ground in the Nizhny Novgorod region, 450 kilometers east of Moscow. The exercises included what the Defense Ministry said was the first use in a combat environment of two new robotic combat vehicles equipped with machine guns and grenade launchers.
The Zapad (West) -2021 exercises carried out at several sites in Russia and Belarus involve around 200,000 troops in total, including troops from Armenia, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia.
The foreign ministers of Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia on Monday expressed concerns over the maneuvers, saying Russia had not been transparent about them and noting that they are intervening amid tensions Western countries increased with Belarus.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov brushed aside these concerns, saying “joint military exercises are a regular process”.
The exercises began last week on the same day Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met and announced new measures to integrate their countries’ economies.
Russia’s 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 guiding them to its borders with countries of the European Union of Lithuania, Latvia and Poland.
The migrant problem emerged after Western countries imposed sanctions on Belarus for its harsh crackdown on the opposition and its crackdown on independent media following the huge protests against Lukashenko last year.
The protests began when Lukashenko won a sixth term after a presidential election that the West and members of the opposition called a sham.