U.S. military gear reaches Poland ahead of Russian war games

Troops participating in Zapad 2013

During the drills, the joint Russian-Belarus operations are set to target a theoretical adversary attempting to undermine the government in Minsk and establish a separatist stronghold in western Belarus.

"Although, Russian's expansionist apprehensions have been neutralized by Belarusian Defence Minister Andrei Ravkov, who confirmed that the joint military exercise will be defensive by nature but Western nations have been warned by U.S. commanders that the Zapad exercise" is a rehearsal to invade Ukraine and many European countries with an aim to share a common border with between Europe and Russia.

"Russia is the country that is affecting security in Europe now because of its actions, the annexation of the Crimea and the continuing battles in eastern Ukraine", Biden said.

Belarus, a former Soviet satellite often called Europe's last dictatorship, has long followed a delicate balancing act by trying to preserve a measure of independence while remaining closely integrated with its giant neighbor.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has warned that Zapad-2017 (Russian for "West") could be a prelude for an invasion of Ukraine. And Russia has past form here.

"That happened in Georgia in 2008 when they invaded Georgia, and it happened in Crimea in 2014 when they illegally annexed Crimea", he told the BBC.

The annual exercise focuses on peacekeeping and stability operations and helps promote interoperability among the partner militaries of Ukraine and the United States as well as its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies, according to U.S. Army Europe.

All of it "nonsense", according to Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who slammed claims that it was planning to leave troops behind in Belarus.

But despite Vladimir Putin's insistence that only 12,700 troops will be involved- just under the 13,000 figure that triggers treaty agreements for worldwide observers - Germany and France say the real figure is closer to 100,000.

At least according to Russian statements, the exercise's primary aim is internal.

Russian and Belarusian soldiers will march in unison today, as their countries commence the quadrennial Zapad-Russian for "West"-military exercise".

Russia's Defense Ministry said Thursday that elite parachute units in several Russian cities had been placed on alert to be deployed during the exercises.

Western military analysts suspect that the real number of troops taking part in the manoeuvres could be between 70,000 and 100,000. NATO's chief Jens Stoltenberg told the BBC that Russian Federation has a history of using "big military exercises as a disguise or a precursor for aggressive military actions against their neighbors". As it said only around 3,000 personnel would be involved in the exercise, it looked like a clear sign it was hiding something. His counterpart, Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko is an ally of Russia, Zwack said, "but a prickly one". "They still have a way to go, but they learn fast", he said.

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