The weeklong “Zapad-2021” (“West-2021”) exercises are due to start on September 10 at training grounds in Russia and Belarus. They will involve thousands of troops as well as tanks, artillery and military aircraft.
The Belarusian Defense Ministry said last month that the cross-border drills will be based on a scenario where the two countries are under attack.
Tensions have run high in recent months on Belarus’s borders with NATO members Lithuania, Latvia and Poland. Western officials say Minsk has been pushing illegal migrants into those countries to put pressure on the European Union in response to EU sanctions imposed on autocratic President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urged Russia late last week to be open about the upcoming drills and the troop numbers involved.
“What we have seen before is that the numbers of troops participating in the exercises significantly exceed the numbers announced,” Stoltenberg told Reuters news agency.
The U.S. Ambassador to Belarus, Julie Fisher, said in June that the U.S.-led alliance will be paying “very close attention” to Zapad-2021.
Moscow says that the war games will be transparent and defensive in nature.
In a weekend statement, the Armenian Defense Ministry said its troops will join the exercises in line with a Russian-Armenian plan of joint military activities in 2021.
The statement did not specify how many Armenian soldiers will take part in Zapad-2021. It said only that an Armenian army unit is heading to the Russian military’s Mulino training ground about 360 kilometers east of Moscow.
Armenia moved to deepen its already close military ties with Russia shortly after the six-week war in Nagorno-Karabakh stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire last November.
Defense Minister Arshak Karapetian visited Russia for at least three times this summer. His Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu reportedly assured him on August 11 that Moscow will continue to help Armenia reform and modernize its armed forces.