Russia, Belarus to Hold ‘Zapad-2021’ Drills Despite Ukrainian Criticism

Russia and Belarus are preparing to hold large-scale cross-border military drills in September, which will involve nearly 13,000 troops, a Belarusian military official said.

The upcoming strategic drills in Belarus named Zapad-2021 (West-2021) will involve thousands of servicemen, including those from Moscow-led defense bloc member Kazakhstan, as well as tanks, artillery, and aircraft, the ministry announced in a statement.

“About 12,800 troops will participate in the drills on the territory of the Republic of Belarus, including 2,500 Russian personnel and up to 50 Kazakh servicemen from the CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organization] Collective Operational Response Forces,” Belarus’ Deputy Defense Minister Viktor Gulevich said at a briefing, according to Russian news agency TASS.

NTD Photo
Helicopters fly above servicemen running to positions during the joint Russian-Belarusian military exercises Zapad-2017 (West-2017) at a training ground near the town of Borisov on Sept. 20, 2017. (Sergei Gapon/AFP via Getty Images)

“Almost 400 Belarusian servicemen and over 30 units of military equipment of the Belarusian armed forces will take part in the drills on the territory of the Russian Federation,” he added.

This year’s drills, which will be held from Sept. 10 until Sept. 16, will take place at training grounds in both Belarus and Russia. The scale of the exercise will be bigger than the previous one, named “Zapad- 2020 (West-2020).”

“The scale will be wider. It will take place on five proving grounds here in Belarus,” Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin said at the time of the drills’ announcement, adding that it will be a “huge complex of preparation measures.”

Ministry officials said the strategic exercises will be based on a scenario where “international tensions are escalated to a level that may destabilize the situation in the region and provoke aggression against the Union State [of Russia and Belarus].”

NTD Photo
Helicopters fly above servicemen running to positions during the joint Russian-Belarusian military exercises Zapad-2017 (West-2017) at a training ground near the town of Borisov on Sept. 20, 2017. (Sergei Gapon/AFP via Getty Images)
NTD Photo
Tanks take part in the joint Russian-Belarusian military exercises Zapad-2017 (West-2017) at a training ground near the town of Borisov on Sept. 20, 2017. (Sergei Gapon/AFP via Getty Images)

The Zapad-exercises, which are held in both countries every four years, have caused concern for Western military planners and analysts. During drills in 2017, some observers feared that Russia could use the military exercises to launch a fresh assault on Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s deputy chief of staff, Roman Mashovets, said in April after the announcement of “Zapad-2021” that the drills are “aggressive in nature” and pose “a threat to Euro-Atlantic security.”

The Eastern European country has repeatedly criticized the exercises and described them as a threat to its own security, as well as that of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

In turn, Belarus’ Gulevich has responded that the exercises carry no threat, “neither for the European community as a whole nor for any neighboring countries.”

Reuters contributed to this report.