FILE PHOTO: Members of the Russian service take part in the opening ceremony of military exercise Zapad-2021 conducted by the Armed Forces of Russia and Belarus at the Obuz-Lesnovsky Training Ground in Brest Region, Belarus September 9, 2021. The picture was taken on September 9, 2021. Vadim Yakubyonok/Belta/Handout Via Reuters
September 11, 2021
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia used new combat robots and tactical vehicles on the second day of the active main phase of a major military exercise with its former Soviet ally Belarus, the Defense Ministry said on Saturday.
The “Zapad-2021” war game, which will run until next Thursday on the western fringes of Russia and Belarus, including sites close to EU borders, has worried Ukraine and some NATO countries.
The troops used Platform-M combat robots, which are remotely controlled and equipped with grenade launchers and machine guns, the ministry said in a statement. Russian news agencies said this was the first time such hardware had been used.
Russian media said that the new Sarmat-2 tactical vehicles have also been used.
President Vladimir Putin denied directing the exercise against any foreign power, saying he was prudent given the increase in NATO activity near Russia’s borders and its allies.
Ukraine and neighboring countries such as NATO members Poland and Lithuania say such large exercises are so close to marginal risk and provocative.
“We need to realize that this (a Russian military attack on Estonia) may indeed happen in the coming years,” Martin Herrem, the commander of the Estonian Defense Forces, said in an interview on Friday evening.
BNS News Wire quoted him as saying, “Russia probably does not aim to capture us – it does not seek to gain control through occupation, but enjoys instability and influence.”
The maneuvers are held every four years, but this year’s exercise has been seen as a special gesture of Russia’s support for Belarus and its leader Alexander Lukashenko, who was excommunicated by the West to crack down on dissent has gone.
Russia sees Belarus as a strategically important buffer to its west, and helps keep Lukashenko in power with loans and political support while he crushed a popular uprising last year.
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow in Moscow and Andreas Saitas in Vilnius, Editing by Ros Russell)