Russia Says Exercises Have No Direct Focus

"This Russian-Belarusian exercise does not have an aggressive nature and is not directed toward anyone," Ivanov told a news conference.

Ivanov also said Russia and Kazakhstan would stage another military exercise under the framework of treaty organization later this year.

The exercises envisage a joint response to an unnamed, outside military threat. Russian MiG-29 fighter jets practiced intercepting enemy planes over western Belarus over the weekend, as part of the drills.

Belarus' authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko _ who has been dubbed "Europe's last dictator" by the United States and other Western nations for his relentless crackdown on dissent _ has repeatedly accused the West of harboring aggressive intentions.

Russia, meanwhile, has watched warily as former Soviet bloc countries bordering Belarus _ Poland, Latvia and Lithuania _ have joined NATO. Russian military officials have announced plans to set up a permanent air base in Belarus and deploy air defense missiles there.

Russia and Belarus signed a union agreement in 1996 providing for close political, economic and military ties, and their armed forces have held frequent joint drills.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and leaders of the other four nations in the defense and security cooperation pact _ Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan _ will visit Belarus to watch the exercise Saturday