Belarus “invaded by NATO from Ukraine”

Local TV stations in the central Russian region of Lipetsk have reported that refugees from Belarus have arrived after the country was invaded by NATO forces advancing from Ukrainian territory.

The reports went on to clarify that it was a scenario for field exercises by Interior Ministry forces in the region. The obvious diplomatic gaffe left the Russian military red-faced and they had to concede that journalists had misinterpreted the general’s words, reports Kommersant newspaper.

The Cold War-esque situation had been voiced to the media by a deputy commander of the Interior Troops in the region, TV correspondent Oksana Korabelnikova told Kommersant. Major General Ryabchikov shared the info with her and her colleagues off the camera.

Now the military are busy preventing possible diplomatic damage from the story. Head of the Interior Troops press service Lieutenant Colonel Panchenkov said the journalists probably “saw or heard something wrong,” but didn’t comment on whether the exercise was reported correctly.

“Today we say something; tomorrow we receive a diplomatic note. Let’s leave our brothers alone, we have just started to re-establish relations with them,” Panchenkov said. The colonel added that since some of the regions involved in the war games border with other countries, it “naturally has an impact on the exercises.”

A source in the force, who did not want to be named, told the newspaper that the “vocal chiefs” received a dressing down for the statements and “won’t state anything like that anymore.” He suggested that the gaffe was due to “the chiefs’ vanity in front of the cameras.”

Military exercises by interior troops are taking place between April 13 and 17 in several regions in central Russia. Reports on the “NATO invasion of Belarus” were broadcast on Monday evening.

Russia’s Interior Ministry has got into trouble over controversial exercise scenarios before. Last October, the media reported on an exercise where riot police used water cannons to disperse an illegal rally of pensioners, who had blocked a major motorway.

After the initial confusion by the media and a furious storm in the blogosphere over “police training in brutality” the ministry had to hastily come up with clarification. The exercise involved several cases, and water cannons were not intended to be used against “protesting pensioners”, but the two descriptions merged into one due to badly written material presented to journalists.