RIGA (Sputnik) — Latvia will become the only NATO member state to send out an additional inspection mission to observe the joint Russia-Belarus Zapad-2017 drills, Latvian Defense Minister Raimonds Bergmanis said Tuesday.
Russia-Belarus joint military drills, dubbed Zapad-2017 ("West-2017"), are scheduled for September 14-20. The exercise will bring together about 12,700 servicemen and hundreds of units of military hardware and equipment. According to prior statements, Latvia intended to send three observers to the drills.
"The Belarusian side has agreed to Latvia's request to send an additional inspection to observe these drills," Bergmanis said, as quoted by the ministry's press service.
Gen. James Everard, the NATO deputy supreme allied commander Europe, who is currently on a visit to Latvia, stressed that NATO was watching Zapad-2017 very closely to be ready to respond to any potential danger. However, Everard noted that NATO did not see "an immediate military threat" in these drills. According to the UK general, the alliance believes that Russia is using Zapad-2017 as a political message and a way to test new equipment and hardware.
The plans to hold drills prompted concern from a number of states, including Latvia. Russian and Belarusian officials have repeatedly said that Zapad-2017 drills do not pose any threat to other states and are exclusively defensive in nature.