War games reinforce Russian president’s backing of embattled Belarusian leader.
VIDEO: Russian Military Drill With Belarus Sends Warning To West
Russia is carrying out what it claims to be one of the biggest military exercises in the country’s history alongside its ally Belarus.
The Kremlin claims that the ZAPAD 2021 quadrennial exercise involves a total of about 200,000 troops from Russia and Belarus and takes place across several training grounds in the two countries. The exercises started Sept. 10 and are scheduled to run through Sept. 16.
“The main aim of the ZAPAD-2021 games is to show the west that Russia is military prepared and Belarus is under its protection,” said Andrei Yeliseyeu, research director of the Eurasian States in Transition Research Center, a Poland-based independent think-tank focused on post-Soviet and East European studies.
Lukashenko, often referred to as “Europe’s last dictator,” has been under pressure from the United States, Europe and their allies since he brutally crushed dissent following his highly contested reelection in 2020. He is in his 27th year in power.
Lukashenko’s isolation from the West has led Belarus to cozy up to the Kremlin. Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised to provide military and economic support regardless of Western sanctions.
“The weakened and illegitimate Lukashenko is becoming increasingly dragged into the Kremlin’s sphere of influence dragging the country toward a near-total dependence on Russia,” said the think-tank’s Yeliseyeu.
Video from ZAPAD 2021 shows Russian and Belarusian forces carrying out bombing runs with ZVO bombers and Mi-35 and Mi-24 helicopters outfitted with anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.
The ZAPAD-2021 games are based on the idea that an imaginary Western force is trying to unseat power in Belarus and the Union State (Russia and Belarus) must work together to repel the invasion.
The games are a part of a larger geopolitical shift that could see the Kremlin eventually subjugate Belarus and its capital Minsk, stripping it of its sovereignty and in effect taking control of a country home to over 9 million people, said Yeliseyeu.
Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Judith Isacoff