Putin attends military drills that worry Russia’s neighbors

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday attended the weeklong war games with Belarus that have demonstrated the Russian military’s resurgent might and made neighboring countries nervous.

Putin observed the Zapad (West) 2017 drills — tank attacks, airborne assaults and air raids that got underway Thursday — at the Luzhsky range in western Russia, just over 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) east of Estonia’s border.

As part of the maneuvers, the Russian military on Monday also test-fired its state-of-the-art cruise missile at a mock target in the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan, showcasing the weapon’s extended range and precision strike capability.

Some nervous NATO members, including the Baltic states and Poland, have criticized an alleged lack of transparency about the war games and questioned Moscow’s intentions.

The exercises, held in several firing ranges in Belarus and western Russia, run through Wednesday. Russia and Belarus say 5,500 Russian and 7,200 Belarusian troops are participating, but some NATO countries have estimated that up to 100,000 troops could be involved.

With Russia’s relations with the West at a post-Cold War low point over the fighting in Ukraine, worries about the war games ranged from allegations that Russia could permanently deploy its forces to Belarus to fears of a surprise onslaught on the Baltics.

Russia and Belarus have said the exercises simulate a response to foreign-backed “extremists” and insisted the maneuvers don’t threaten anyone.

Their troops are fighting three invented “aggressor countries” — Veishnoriya, Lubeniya and Vesbariya. However, the Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — and Poland see the monikers for the made up enemies as thinly disguised references to their nations.

NATO has rotated military units in the Baltics and Poland and staged regular drills in the region, activities Moscow has criticized as a reflection of the alliance’s hostile intentions.

Russia and Belarus kept the stated number of troops involved in the drills just below 13,000, a limit allowing them to dodge more intrusive inspections by NATO in line with international agreements. The practice maneuvers nonetheless have put Russia’s massive military mobilization capability on display.

They also have involved various branches of the Russian military, including the air force’s long-range bombers and missile forces. In a reflection of the drills’ broad scope, they featured Monday’s launch of the…

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