Russia Troops Drop Near West Border in Belarus Drills Being Watched by U.S.

Russian airborne troops dropped down from the sky near Belarus' western border on Tuesday as part of joint exercises being watched by the U.S. military amid political instability in the Eastern European nation.

The combined paratrooper exercises of Russia and Belarus are part of the Slavic Brotherhood 2020 drills being conducted in the latter country's city of Brest, located near the border with Poland. The maneuvers are being conducted upon the backdrop of mass protests in the wake of a disputed vote that saw the re-election of longtime President Alexander Lukashenko, who has blamed the West for the unrest.

For support in the midst of turmoil, Lukashenko has turned to Russia, which on Tuesday he called part of Belarus' greater "Fatherland," spanning from Brest to the far eastern city of Vladivostok.

The two nations are locked into a Union State treaty providing for mutual defense, and Moscow has joined Minsk in criticizing neighboring NATO Western military alliance member states such as Latvia, Lithuania and Poland for pressuring Lukashenko to leave in a plot they see backed by the U.S.

As the drills play out at the sensitive border with Poland, where the Pentagon leads a multinational NATO battlegroup, U.S. European Command (EUCOM) told Newsweek it had eyes on the joint Russia-Belarusian exercises.

"As with all activity in the region, we are aware of and closely monitoring the exercise," EUCOM spokesperson Navy Lieutenant Commander Russ Wolfkiel said.

russia, belarus, paratrooper, drills, border
Russian paratroopers drop in for joint drills with Belarus as part of the Slavic Brotherhood 2020 exercises taking place at a training ground in Brest, located near Belarus' western border with Poland, September 22. The U.S. and NATO nations neighboring Belarus are keeping a close eye on the drills amid tensions. Russian Ministry of Defense

The Slavic Brotherhood exercises are held each year in a traditionally trilateral format that also including Serbia, but Belgrade opted out of the 2020 edition, citing pressure from the European Union over the political situation surrounding Lukashenko's election. Russia and Belarus have pressed on, however, bringing an estimated 900 personnel to the training.

The goal, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, was "practicing counter-terrorism tasks as part of a multinational tactical group."

The Belarusian Defense Ministry described the primary theme as "conducting joint actions in the interests of the security of the Union State." This included displaying the readiness to defend Belarus' territorial integrity, it said.

Lukashenko has claimed that Poland and other West-aligned forces have mobilized troops at the border with Belarus, something these countries have denied. The Polish Ministry of National Defense told Newsweek at the onset of exercises earlier this month that it "monitors military exercises conducted in the vicinity of Polish borders," and characterized the joint Russia-Belarus training as a largely domestic affair.

"Taking into account the annual character of SLAVIC BROTHERHOOD exercise as well as current political situation in Belarus, MoND assesses that the recent anti-Polish narrative expressed by authorities of some nations participating in the exercise is motivated mainly by their internal propaganda needs," the ministry said in a statement at the time.

"Regrettably, the Belarusian government, presumably with the purpose to maintain control over the internal situation, present protests as driven by the West," it added. "We do not find any justification for such argumentation and military activities declared by the Belarusian regime in this regard."

Baltic countries and U.S. officials have also expressed concern to Newsweek about Russia's growing role in Belarus, whose forces were also training alongside Russian counterparts and other militaries as part of the ongoing Kavkaz-2020 strategic exercises.

Sviatlana, Tsikhanouskaya, belarus, opposition, europe
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya shows a picture while she attends the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament to discuss the latest developments in her country in the European Parliament on September 21, in Brussels, Belgium. After failing to secure a victory in a dispute vote, she fled to neighboring Lithuania where she has sought to draw international pressure against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

Moscow has been adamant about rejecting foreign interference in Belarus. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the state-run Tass Russian News Agency on Tuesday that efforts to amend the constitution to assuage public anger should "be determined by our Belarusian neighbors themselves."

Both Russian and Belarusian officials have warned against pro-West plots to remove Lukashenko to establish NATO-led hegemony linking the Baltic and Black Seas.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has formed a special law enforcement unit to respond to Belarus' instability, but has said he would not deploy the expeditionary police contingent unless the situation spiraled out of control. So far, Lukashenko has enforced his rule of law with crackdowns that have garnered further criticism from the West.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg discussed the issue during his meeting Monday with Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau.

"The Secretary General stressed that the people of Belarus have the right to determine their own future," a NATO readout stated. "He noted that the Alliance remains vigilant, strictly defensive and ready to deter any aggression against NATO Allies."

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