MINSK, March 10 (RIA Novosti) - Belarus and Russia will stage a large-scale strategic military exercise in the fall, the Belarusian defense minister said on Tuesday.
The drill, called Zapad 2009 (West 2009), will involve around 13,000 service personnel on both sides.
Leonid Maltsev said the Russian military would contribute "Ground Forces, Air Force, Air Defense Forces and reconnaissance units."
He added that the drill would, among other things, rehearse interoperability within the framework of the Belarusian-Russian integrated air defense system, which the two countries agreed to establish recently.
The exercise scenario has been approved by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
He said Belarus is pursuing a peaceful foreign policy and "does not regard any state as an enemy," but military force could not be discounted as an essential security factor.
Moscow and Minsk signed on February 3 an agreement on the joint protection of the Russia-Belarus Union State's airspace and the creation of an integrated regional air defense network.
The network will comprise five Air Force units, 10 anti-aircraft units, five technical service and support units and one electronic warfare unit, and will be placed under the command of a Russian or Belarusian Air Force or Air Defense Force senior commander.