WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — The US Department of Defense is closely observing watching joint Russia-Belarus Zapad 2017 drills, Pentagon spokesperson Rob Manning said in a briefing on Friday.
"We are watching Zapad very closely. Obviously Russia has the right to conduct their own exercises," Manning told reporters.
The week-long military exercise is underway at several sites from Russia’s northwest to Belarus. It brings together 12,700 service personnel — 7,200 Belarusian and 5,500 Russian troops — as well as 70 aircraft, 250 tanks and ten ships.
However, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the alliance does not see any imminent threat posed to against any NATO member by the drills.
In their turn, senior Russian and Belarusian officials reiterated that the drills do not pose any threat to other states and are exclusively defensive in nature. Moreover, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko stated earlier that these exercises would be open for foreign observers. The Defense Ministry of Belarus reported in August that observers from seven countries — Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Sweden, Norway — were invited to the event. Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to observe the drills on September 18.
Moscow has repeatedly criticized the increased presence of the alliance’s troops and military facilities near the Russian border. Moscow has said Russia had never planned and does not plan to attack any NATO member.