Russia and Belarus hold war games while Ukrainian President warns of all-out war

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Russia and Belarus hold war games while Ukrainian President warns of all-out war

Russia and former Soviet ally Belarus have launched the “hot phase” of a 3-month-long military exercise involving 200,000 troops — as Ukraine’s president said all-out war with the northern neighbor was possible.

The Russian Defense Ministry released video of warships and tanks opening fire and fighter jets taking off. It said the troops had practiced repelling an aerial attack and that it tested S-400 air defense systems on Russian-annexed Crimea, Reuters reported.

The live-fire drills are the culmination of the “Zapad-2021” war games that will run until Thursday on Russia’s and Belarus’ western flanks, including areas near NATO and the European Union’s borders.

Mathieu Boulegue, a research fellow at Britain’s Chatham House think tank, said the first three days of the “hot phase” exercises, launched Friday, focused on defending against a Western attack, with the remaining four days devoted to a counter-offensive.

"Zapad-2021" joint military drills of the armed forces of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus at the Mulino army base.
“Zapad-2021” joint military drills of the armed forces of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus at the Mulino army base.
AFP PHOTO / Russian Defence Ministry / handout
The combined forces of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus at Mulino army base near Moscow.
The combined forces of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus at Mulino army base near Moscow.
AFP PHOTO / Russian Defence Ministry / handout
Russia and former Soviet ally Belarus have launched the “hot phase” of a 3-month-long military exercise involving 200,000 troops.
Russia and former Soviet ally Belarus have launched the “hot phase” of a 3-month-long military exercise involving 200,000 troops.
AFP PHOTO / Russian Defence Ministry / handout
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu attends the main stage of the Zapad-2021.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu attends the main stage of the Zapad-2021.
EPA/ALEXEI DRUZHININ / KREMLIN POOL/SPUTNIK / POOL

Ukraine and NATO members Poland and Lithuania say such large-scale exercises so close to the border risked being provocative.

On Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said all-out war with Russia was a possibility, and that he wanted to have a substantive meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, according to Reuters.

Asked at the Yalta European Strategy summit about the possibility of war with Russia, which seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and backs pro-Russian separatists, Zelenskiy said: “I think there can be.”

Ukraine and NATO members Poland and Lithuania say such large-scale exercises so close to the border risked being provocative.
Ukraine and NATO members Poland and Lithuania say such large-scale exercises so close to the border risked being provocative.
AFP PHOTO / Russian Defence Ministry / handout
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) sits with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (left) as they watch the joint exercise.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) sits with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu as they watch the joint exercise.
Sergei Savostyanov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
A  Russian BM-21 'Grad', a Soviet truck-mounted 122 mm multiple rocket launcher, firing during the joint military exercise.
A Russian BM-21 Grad, a Soviet truck-mounted 122mm multiple rocket launcher, firing during the joint military exercise.
EPA/RUSSIAN DEFENCE MINISTRY PRESS SERVICE/HANDOUT
Russia said that troops had practiced repelling an aerial attack and that it tested S-400 air defense systems on Russian-annexed Crimea
Russia said troops had practiced repelling an aerial attack and that it tested S-400 air defense systems on Russian-annexed Crimea.
AFP PHOTO / Russian Defence Ministry / handout

He added in Ukrainian: “It’s the worst thing that could happen, but unfortunately there is that possibility.”

Tensions between Kyiv and Moscow spiked this year when fighting in eastern Ukraine intensified and Russia massed more troops near the border.

Putin denied that the military drills are directed against any foreign power and said they are sensible given increased NATO activity near Russia’s borders and those of its allies.

The live-fire drills are the culmination of the war games that will run until September 16, 2021  on Russia's and Belarus' western flanks.
The live-fire drills are the culmination of the war games that will run until September 16, 2021, on Russia’s and Belarus’ western flanks.
AFP PHOTO / Russian Defence Ministry / handout
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is concerned that the games will likely lead to a full-out confrontation with Russia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is concerned that the games will likely lead to a full-out confrontation with Russia.
EPA/RUSSIAN DEFENCE MINISTRY PRESS SERVICE/HANDOUT
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the drills involve include 200,000 troops, 80 aircraft, 290 tanks and 15 ships.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the drills involve include 200,000 troops, 80 aircraft, 290 tanks and 15 ships.
EPA/RUSSIAN DEFENCE MINISTRY PRESS SERVICE/HANDOUT
Vladimir Putin (2nd right), Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (center left), Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov(1st left) visit Mulino training ground.
Vladimir Putin (2nd left), Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (center left) and chief of the general staff of Russian armed forces Valery Gerasimov (left) visit the Mulino training ground.
Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS

The exercises are held every four years, but this year’s drill has been seen as a sign of Russia’s support for Belarus and its leader, Alexander Lukashenko, whom the West has ostracized for cracking down on dissent.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said the active phase of the drills — which include 200,000 troops, 80 aircraft, 290 tanks and 15 ships — would take place at nine sites in Russia and five sites in Belarus.

Forces from Armenia, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia also were due to take part.

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