Russia, Belarus hold military exercises

ISN SECURITY WATCH (Tuesday, 20 June 2006: 07.50 CET) - Russia and Belarus have launched their largest ever joint military exercise, Union Shield 2006, with nearly 8,800 troops participating.

According to Russia's Itar-Tass news agency, 1,800 Russian troops will take part in the week long exercises, alongside 7,000 Belarusian troops.

Forty tanks, 180 armored infantry carriers, 140 anti-tank guided missiles, and 30 multiple launch rocket systems will be used in the large-scale exercises, according to Russian news agencies.

According to Itar-Tass, six Belarusian helicopters and 23 combat planes along with six Russian helicopters and 13 warplanes will participate in the maneuvers. The helicopters and war planes will include Su-30 multi-purpose fighters, Su-27SM interceptors, Su-24M bombers, Su-25M attack aircraft, Mig-29 fighters, Mi-8MT and Mi-24 helicopters, and two super modern Mi-28 Night Hunters. Russian Tu-160, Tu-95 and Tu-22M3 long-range aircraft will also participate.

Military observers from over 40 countries have been invited to attend the Union Shield 2006.

According to Russian officials, the objective of the exercises is to demonstrate the interoperability of a joint regional contingent in the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which unites Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan.

"The exercise was designed to coordinate the issues of defense of the Russia-Belarus and test the quality of the united air defense system the two countries are creating", the two countries' officials said in joint statement.

The exercises will be aimed at protection of the borders of Belarus and Russia as well as other four countries.

In other news, Russian media reported that a joint Russian-Belarusian center for servicing air defense equipment will be established in eastern Belarus in the near future to provide services for the two countries' militaries as well as third parties using Soviet- and Russian-made air defense systems.

In the meantime, Russian President Vladimir Putin last week admitted there had been no real progress towards creating a Russia-Belarus Union State, Itar-Tass reported.

(By ISN Security Watch staff, Itar-Tass, RIA Novosti)