MOSCOW (Sputnik) — Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov assured NATO Military Committee Chairman Petr Pavel that the Russia-Belarus Zapad-2017 military exercises were not aimed against other countries and were scheduled in nature, the Russian Defense Ministry said commeting on the meeting between the two military officials on Thursday.
"The chief of the Russian General Staff informed in detail the NATO military committee chairman about the upcoming Zapad-2017 strategic exercises, especially stressing its scheduled and defensive nature, as well as that it is not aimed against other countries. General of the Army Valery Gerasimov emphasised that ensuring the security of the Union State was the main aim of the drills," the ministry said in a statement.
When commenting on the meeting, NATO, in its turn, said that the talks had demonstrated a clear interest to maintain the military lines of communication.
"This face to face meeting demonstrates a clear mutual interest to maintain the military lines of communication, in line with NATO’s policy of transparency and ongoing dialogue at the political level with senior Russian leadership. General Pavel and General Gerasimov agreed to continue using the military lines of communication in the future," the NATO statement read.
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.
When commenting on NATO states' reaction to the planned drills, the Russian Foreign Ministry said earlier that increasing military presence of NATO in Eastern Europe went unnoticed amid groundless criticism of the Russian-Belarusian Zapad-2017 military exercises.
The joint military drills are scheduled for September 14-20. The exercises will stretch from the Kola Peninsula in Russia's far northwest all the way down to Belarus. About 12,700 servicemen (including 5,500 Russians), some 70 planes and helicopters, and up to 680 units of military equipment will be involved in the drills.