MOSCOW (Sputnik) – NATO will send three experts to the upcoming Russia-Belarus Zapad-2017 military exercises, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday.
The decision to send experts comes following invitations from Russia and Belarus.
Previously, Stoltenberg said that the alliance does not see any imminent threat posed against any NATO member by the drills. However, a number of NATO member states located in eastern Europe, including Poland and Lithuania, as well as Ukraine, have already expressed their concerns over the upcoming Russia-Belarus exercises.
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.
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.
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.