VLADIMIR Putin has launched massive war games with 200,000 troops spanning 2,000km on Europe's doorstep in a warning to the West.
The Zapad-2021 military drills include Belarus and run north to south from the Baltic to Ukraine amid fears of flashpoints along east-west frontiers.
But Putin’s forces are also staging simultaneous major war games in the Arctic after completing separate large-scale joint exercises in ex-Soviet republics bordering strife-torn Afghanistan on Thursday.
The Zapad-2021 exercises - or West-2021, in English - involve a total of 200,000 troops, 80 warplanes and helicopters, plus some 760 pieces of military equipment including 290 tanks, and 240 artillery pieces, multiple launcher rocket systems, and mortars.
The joint exercises with landlocked Belarus - which borders three NATO countries - come amid a significant step towards Russia swallowing up its westerly neighbour after talks between Putin and Minsk dictator Alexander Lukashenko.
On Europe’s doorstep, and close to the tinderbox in Ukraine, the Russian show of strength is being monitored closely by the West at a time of intense diplomatic tension.
The drills span more than 2,000 kilometres and include nine military training bases, also involving 15 warships from Russia’s Baltic Fleet.
"These exercises are not aimed against anyone," insisted Putin after talks with Lukashenko, who has faced unprecedented protests against his iron-fist rule spanning more than a quarter of a century.
But the drills were "logical at a time, when other alliances, such as NATO, actively ramp up their presence near the borders of the Union State (of Russia and Belarus).”
Putin launches massive war games with 200,000 troops spanning 2,000km on Europe’s doorstep in warning to the West
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