Thu, 24 Oct 2019

MINSK -- The Russian and Belarusian militaries have launched weeklong joint exercises in the Nizni Novgorod region, west of Moscow.

The Union Shield 2019 drills are set to involve a total of 12,000 troops and 950 pieces of military equipment, including combat vehicles, aircraft, and helicopters, Russia's Western Military District said on September 13.

The Belarusian Defense Ministry said it had sent 4,000 soldiers, more than 30 tanks, 80 armored vehicles, 50 multiple rocket launchers, and about 15 aircraft and helicopters.

During the second phase of the exercises, troops will search and eliminate hypothetical saboteurs and illegal armed groups, a statement said.

In August, the chief of the General Staff of the Belarusian armed forces, First Deputy Defense Minister Major-General Aleh Belokonev, said the exercise would be held 'deep inside the territory of the Russian Federation and not at practice ranges near [EU] borders' in order to 'avoid the escalation of the situation in Europe.'

Belarus and Russia are joined in a union state that exists mainly on paper, and the two countries hold joint military exercises that regularly engage the West's attention.

The Union Shield drills are carried out every two years alternately on the territory of Russia and Belarus. Union Shield 2017 was held in Belarus and involved some 12,700 troops.

With reporting by TASS

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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