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Russia-Belarus Started Military Drills, Neighbors Concerned

September 11, 2021

Russia and Belarus began joint military exercises on Friday, with NATO member Poland warning of potential “threats” as tensions on the EU’s eastern border rise. The week-long Zapad-2021 military exercise in Belarus, western Russia, and the Baltic Sea will be attended by 200,000 people, according to Moscow. The defence ministry released video of coordinated drills in which rows of Russian warships fired artillery, military jets flew in formation, and sections of tanks advanced over rough terrain.

On the eve of the exercise, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that it was “not aimed at anyone.” His isolated Belarus counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, stated that the countries are “not doing anything that our adversaries are not doing.” The strongman pair, both in power for more than two decades, spoke in the Kremlin on Thursday after agreeing to deepen the integration of their former Soviet republics, including militarily.

The drills have alarmed the EU’s eastern flank, which borders Belarus and Russia, both of which have accused the Minsk regime of deliberately sending migrants across their borders. Poland has declared a state of emergency along its eastern border, the first time such a measure has been used since Communism’s demise. Before the drills, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki warned of “threats” and said the drills were one of the reasons Warsaw declared a state of emergency.

On Friday, Warsaw’s Defence Minister, Mariusz Blaszczak, told Polish media that the country was prepared for “borderline incidents.” After an increasing number of migrants, mostly from the Middle East, attempted to cross the border from Belarus, the country has intervened militarily to construct a metal fence along the border. Brussels suspects Lukashenko are purposely instigating the upsurge as a form of retaliation for the EU’s extremely strict sanctions against his regime.

Putin said on Thursday that EU leaders had asked him to cooperate, but that Moscow had “nothing to do with it.” He stated that any Afghan citizens attempting to cross the border should be accepted by Poland. “You can blame Belarus for anything, but at least take in the Afghans,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said. Putin accused the EU of having no problem communicating with the Taliban but not with Lukashenko, who is in power “as a result of a vote, whether you like it or not.”

Putin has offered Lukashenko assistance since unexpected protests against him last year over an election widely perceived to be manipulated. The Kremlin leader has long advocated for political integration with Belarus. On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that he had discussed “building a single defence space” with Belarus and had reached an agreement on a range of economic policies that would integrate the two countries. On Friday, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin travelled to Minsk to discuss the plans with his Belarus counterparts.

Putin will visit Belarus in November, according to the Kremlin. Belarusians, according to Lukashenko, should not be concerned because Russia will not “swallow” their country. In their conflict with the West, Russia and Belarus attempted to create a coherent front.

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