Russia and Belarus have formally started on Thursday joint military drills that will continue for a week.
The drills on the territories of both countries and the Baltic Sea have raised concerns within NATO countries.
Top military officials from both countries attended the opening ceremony of the war games, namely “Zapad-2021” in western Russia.
The intense part of the drills will begin on Friday and end on September 16, amid tensions between the West and Belarus due to opposition crackdown.
Russia’s Ministry of Defense said that nearly 200,000 military staff, 80 aircraft and helicopters, 15 ships and 300 tanks would participate.
Furthermore, the exercises will include live fire and mark the climax of a larger drill.
The Russian defense ministry added that military personnel from Armenia, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia will take part too.
Officials in NATO raised warnings that the drills increase the risk of making a mistake that would start a catastrophe.
This is due to the earlier high-intensity Russian military buildup on the border with Ukraine.
The drills are purely defensive and would improve both countries’ strategic work, said Nikolai Pankov, the Russian Deputy Defence Minister.
Specialists say that Belarus’ participation indicates close relations between it and Russia.
After the West-imposed sanctions on Minsk because of the opposition crackdown, the Kremlin has proved a vital ally for Belarus.
“Lukashenko has gone from not participating in 2017 to being one of the most boastful about how important this exercise is in terms of the intimidation that it represents against the West,” said Mathieu Boulegue, a researcher at Chatham House.
The opening ceremony on Thursday corresponds with talks between Russia’s Putin and Lukashenko in the Kremlin.