Russia, Belarus begin joint military exercise

MOSCOW, June 17 (Xinhua) -- A large-scale Russian-Belarussian military exercise code-named "Union Shield 2006" began in Belarus on Saturday.

The exercise was designed to coordinate the issues of defense of the Russia-Belarus Union State and test the quality of the united air defense system the two countries are creating, an official at the Belarussian Defense Ministry was quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency as saying.

"The participating units will fulfill the combat tasks so as to defend the borders of Russia and Belarus, as well as other member-states of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization,"he said.

The war games, involving a total of 8,800 troops, 1,800 of them from Russia, and over 40 tanks, 180 armored vehicles and 48 helicopters and warplanes, are under a joint command consisting of officers from Russian and Belarussian Armed Forces and Russia's Moscow Military District.

The newest multifunction fighters Su-30, interceptors Su-27SM, fighters MIG-29, Mi-8MT and Mi-24 helicopters are also joining in the exercise.