Russia, Belarus kick off joint military exercise

MOSCOW, Sept. 8 (Xinhua) -- Russia and Belarus on Tuesday started a joint strategic military exercise in Belarus, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

The two-stage drills, dubbed "Zapad 2009 (West 2009)," are expected to run until Sept. 29 and involve about 12,500 service personnel, including 5,000-6,000 troops from Russia and 7,000-8,000 from Belarus.

Up to 200 items of military equipment and hardware, including 40 aircraft, will appear in the exercise, said the report.

"The exercise plan was developed jointly by the Russian and Belarusian Armed Forces General Staffs and is purely defensive," the report cited Russian defense ministry as saying.

The maneuvers will feature combined arms teams, key air force components and ships from the Black Sea Fleet, the Northern Fleet and the Baltic Sea Fleet.

"These will be very important exercises. We haven't conducted anything like that in terms of composition and scale for a long time," Nikolai Makarov, chief of Russia's General Staff, told the Itar-Tass news agency on Monday.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko are scheduled to attend the exercise on Sept. 29.

Moscow and Minsk have been working on creating a Union State since 1997, envisioning a common economic, customs, and political space.

Meanwhile, Russia's Strategic Missile Forces (SMF) are also set to begin a large-scale war game involving over 2,000 personnel on Tuesday.

During the Sept. 8-11 command-and-staff exercises, "the SMF will practice operations control in scenarios involving conventional and nuclear warfare," with the participation of "150 theater- and tactical-level command-and-control centers," said a SMF spokesman.



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