Putin Says Russia and Belarus Will Hold Joint War Games Early Next Year

During a meeting Wednesday with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the two nations will hold another joint session of war games next year.

Putin said the military training drills proposed by Lukashenko would likely happen in February or March, and details would be finalized later.

The two nations previously conducted war games in September, which involved as many as 200,000 troops and hundreds of vehicles performing drills like repelling air strike attacks, drills that concerned Ukraine and other European nations because of how close they were performed to European Union borders, according to Reuters.

At the time, Putin responded to the criticism by saying the drills were not directed at any particular foreign power, and the military was justified in conducting them due to the increased activity of NATO members like the U.S. near the Russian border of Ukraine.

The drills added to the months of tension that have been building over tens of thousands of Russian troops amassing near that nation's border with Ukraine, prompting worldwide fears that Putin was planning to invade Ukraine in 2022.

Putin has repeatedly denied that claim while also making demands of NATO members like rejecting Ukraine from joining the organization and insisting the U.S. and other military allies scale back the military assistance they are providing to Ukraine, requests which have been denied by President Joe Biden and other world leaders.

Putin, Lukashenko, Russia, Belarus, War Games, Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced that Russia and Belarus would be conducting joint military training drills early next year. Above, Putin, right, listens to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko during their meeting at Konstantin Palace in Strelna, outside St. Petersburg, Russia, on Wednesday. Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Speaking during a meeting with Lukashenko in St. Petersburg, Russia, he added that military officials will coordinate details.

Some officials in Ukraine have voiced concern that Russia may attack the country from the territory of Belarus.

Russia and Belarus have a union agreement envisaging close political, economic and military ties, and Moscow has staunchly backed Lukashenko amid Western pressure. That pressure intensified after a brutal crackdown on domestic protests fueled by Lukashenko's re-election to a sixth term in an August 2020 vote that the opposition and the West say was rigged.

Tensions have escalated further since the summer over the arrival of thousands of migrants and refugees on Belarus' border with EU member Poland. The EU has accused Lukashenko of retaliating for its sanctions by using desperate asylum-seekers as pawns and tricking them into trying to enter Poland.

In a show of support for Lukashenko, Russia conducted massive war games with Belarus in September and repeatedly sent its nuclear capable bombers on patrol over Belarus in recent weeks.

On Wednesday, Russian and Belarusian fighter jets jointly patrolled Belarus' air space.

Last month, Lukashenko said that Belarus would be ready to host Russian nuclear weapons.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Putin, Lukashenko, Russia, Belarus, War Games, Ukraine
President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus and Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Wednesday that the military forces of the two nations would conduct a session of war games early next year. Above, Lukashenko greets troops during a military drill outside Brest, Belarus, on September 12. Maxim Guchek, Belta/AFP via Getty Images