Head of Russian general staff reassures North Atlantic Treaty Organisation over war games: RIA

US nuclear bombers swoop as '100000 Russian troops INVADE Europe'

A large-scale exercise Zapad-2017 began in Russia and Belarus on Thursday at three proving grounds in Russia and six in Belarus with 12,700 troops (7,200 Belarussian and 5,500 Russian ones taking part).

It is set to be the country's largest military exercise since 2013, which laid the foundations for Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea, though some Western powers have said it could be the largest deployment since the Cold War. "The main goals are to improve interoperability among the military staff, harmonize troops management systems and provide commanders of various levels of importance with an opportunity to train their skills in planning military events and managing troops based on the experience received during modern armed conflicts", said the Russian defence ministry.

Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces, formally notified North Atlantic Treaty Organisation of the beginning of the exercises on Thursday evening, according to Russian media.

Is Russia preparing to invade another European country, or simply training its forces to do so in the future?

"We reject complaints of these exercises not being transparent", Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters.

"Leaving weapons in Belarus means the Russian army could prepare bases for a sudden broad attack (.) right at the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation border", Lithuanian officer Darius Antanaitis said.

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The war games are scheduled to kick-off Thursday evening.

Western military officials have expressed concern that Zapad 2017 will serve as a Trojan horse, allowing Moscow to leave behind some of the military personnel and equipment it deployed for the drills. Many assert that this indirectly denotes North Atlantic Treaty Organisation members Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

Military officials in Belarus have sought to calm Western fears about major war games with Russian Federation involving thousands of troops, tanks and aircraft, just hours before they are due to get underway. They also see a larger strategic goal: to demonstrate to US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation leaders the high cost of defending the Baltics, thus bringing into question the viability of the alliance.

Russian and Belarusian war games that have started near the Polish border are created to intimidate Warsaw and the West, Poland's defence minister has said.

Exercises involving 13,000 or more troops are subject to mandatory inspections.

"This is a threat to us, because they are dragging Belarus into this hybrid war, they are on our land practicing fighting a war with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and we don't need that, " said Nikolai Statkevich, a leader of protests against the exercises in Minsk last weekend. The Soviet-led Warsaw Pact once used the Zapad exercises to prepare for potential war with the West. A former presidential candidate, Statkevich served a number of years in prison after being detained in 2011.

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