Russia, Belarus to press ahead with military drills criticised by Ukraine

FILE PHOTO: Belarusian military helicopters fly during the Zapad 2017 war games near the village of Volka, Belarus September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Grits/Pool/File Photo

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia and Belarus will hold large-scale crossborder military drills next month, Belarus' defence ministry said on Thursday, which Ukraine has described as a threat to its own security and that of NATO.

The "West-2021" drills will involve thousands of servicemen, including those from Moscow-led defence bloc member Kazakhstan, as well as tanks, artillery and aircraft, the ministry said in a statement.

Military exercises will be held at training grounds in both Russia and Belarus and will be based on a scenario where "international tensions are escalated to a level that may destabilise the situation in the region and provoke aggression against the Union State (of Russia and Belarus)", it said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's deputy chief of staff, Roman Mashovets, said in April the planned drills were "a threat to Euro-Atlantic security" and "aggressive in nature".

Belarus' defence ministry said, in turn, that the exercise carried no threat, "neither for the European community as a whole not for any neighbouring countries".

(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov, Editing by William Maclean)

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