MOSCOW (Sputnik) — Eastern European and Baltic nations have nothing to worry about during the upcoming joint war games by Russian and Belarusian militaries, the Russian deputy defense minister has said.
The drills, called Zapad-2017 (West-2017), are scheduled to begin Thursday and last a week. They will stretch from Russia’s northwest to Belarus and involve 12,700 service personnel.
"I can calm our dear neighbors straightaway. The exercise is absolutely peaceful, and absolutely defensive in nature," Alexander Fomin told the Deutsche Welle broadcaster in an interview on Wednesday.
Asked by DW if people in Eastern Europe and the Baltics could sleep easily, Fomin replied, "Certainly. And I am serious about that."
He rejected claims that the exercise was directed against NATO’s eastern flank, saying it was "not a reason for NATO troops to be stationed directly on the Russian border." The alliance has been building up its presence in the region since a war broke out in Ukraine in 2014.
Several NATO member states and Ukraine have raised concerns about the drills, while the German defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen, claimed last week that over 100,000 troops would participate, an allegation refuted by Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov.