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US, NATO anxious as Russian Federation kicks of war games with Belarus

US, NATO anxious as Russian Federation kicks of war games with Belarus

Russian Federation on Thursday kicked off a weeklong military exercise with its ally Belarus that has its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation neighbors and the United States anxiously watching, but which Russian Federation claims is of a "defensive nature".

Russian President Vladimir Putin is going to attend the joint Russia-Belarus "Zapad" 2017 military drills which have recently started, the Kremlin has confirmed.

Land, sea and air units are all to be involved in the war games, which will take place across a vast expanse of land in Russia's west, as well as Belarus, the Baltic Sea and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

Concerns in the Western alliance were raised by the apparent difference between official Russian figures about the size of the exercise - 12,700 troops, 138 tanks, 40 jets and helicopters - and Western estimates, based on troop and equipment movements, that the number could range from 70,000 to as many as 100,000 participants.

Poland's National Security Bureau head, Pawel Soloch, said Thursday the exercises were a demonstration "of the Russian state's capacity to hold full-scale war action".

"The degree of mobilization is really impressive", Soloch said on private Radio Zet.

At a time of renewed Cold War-style tension between Russian Federation and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the symbolism was striking, according to The Washington Post. The stipulation is part of the country's military doctrine, reminded the press secretary of the Belarusian Defense Ministry.

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The Zapad maneuvers have also been criticized by Belarusian opposition leaders, who say Russian Federation could use the occasion to position a large, permanent contingent of troops in Belarus, leaving the country at the mercy of any armed confrontation involving Moscow. The Baltic States and Poland fear that these monikers are just poorly disguised terms for their own countries.

"All together, what we see is a serious preparation for big war", he told The Associated Press.

There is also unease in Kyiv, and Ukraine is now conducting its own military exercises, called "Unflinching Tenacity", scheduled to end Friday.

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Thursday that Russia had been completely open and transparent about its military's involvement in the exercises. The Soviet-led Warsaw Pact once used the Zapad exercises to prepare for potential war with the West.

Russian authorities have moved to reassure the West as the country embarks upon large scale military exercises which began yesterday on the borders of Europe.

"Worries over Zapad are overkill".