Latvia denies link between NATO exercise and Russia-Belarus drills

The Latvian foreign minister said on Monday that the country's military drills with NATO scheduled for next summer are not a response to Russia-Belarus exercises held in September this year.

The diplomat's comments follow an earlier statement by Latvian Defense Minister Imants Liegis saying that the exercises were a response to the Russia-Belarus Zapad 2009 drills, held on September 8-29 in Belarus.

"Some may try to link these drills to those held by Russia and Belarus. But these exercises are not a retaliation. They shouldn't be linked, but I'm sure we can't stop parallels being drawn," Maris Riekstins told RIA Novosti.

The Zapad 2009 maneuvers involved around 13,000 service personnel, 63 airplanes, 40 helicopters, 470 infantry fighting vehicles, 228 tanks and 234 artillery pieces.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on October 8 during his visit to Estonia that the Zapad 2009 in Belarus did not pose any threat to NATO members.

Riekstins said that the exercises would provide an opportunity for Latvian soldiers involved in peacekeeping missions abroad to practice their skills.

"In Afghanistan, our soldiers have to work in very severe conditions with soldiers from other NATO countries. They need to be ready for this. That's what exercises are for," the diplomat said.

Some 100 Latvian soldiers and officers are taking part in the peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan.

RIGA, November 23 (RIA Novosti)


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