West 2009 war games to test Russia-Belarus joint defense system

Russia and Belarus are holding military exercises to test a new joint defense system. The three-week-long war games, which end on Tuesday, are the largest to be held by the Union State of Russia and Belarus.

13,000 troops are taking part in the war games, known as “Zapad 2009” (West 2009), as well as hundreds of military machines, including new reconnaissance gadgets.

The military says that the event has a purely defensive focus.

“This exercise is a logical continuation of training during recent years. Its primary goal is to test the functioning of the joint defense system of the allied state, and its capabilities of fulfilling the task of maintaining regional and national security,” said Belarusian Defense Minister Col. Gen. Leonid Maltsev.

The exercises will be the first test for the integrated air defense system which Russia and Belarus, which borders NATO member countries, established in February.

For Russia, it’ll also be a test of its recently reformed army.

“We have set a number of important objectives for these maneuvers,” said Russian Chief of General Staff Nikolay Makarov. “First of all, we must test the transition to the new armed forces command system, mostly based on the migration to network-centric warfare. We want to see the new air defense and air force command system in action and also test the command system of the coalition force of the Republic of Belarus and Russia.”

Russia and Belarus are close allies and strategic partners. Although both independent states in their own right, they formed a union almost ten years ago to bolster links between them.

Last year’s trade turnover between them set a new record, reaching $34 billion. Experts say the military exercises will bring the countries even closer together.

“We are allies and we have a lot in common. We are members of the OSCE. We are neighboring states, but unfortunately we’ve been lacking military cooperation. This joint exercise will enable us to become closer in such a sensitive area as security,” says Vladimir Evseev from the Center for International Security of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations.

Not everybody in Belarus is optimistic about the drills, with some claiming it will alienate Belarus from the West.

Some extreme protesters even call the maneuvers a Russian occupation, though that view has been given short shrift by most.

The joint military exercises are no doubt extremely important for Russia and Belarus. Both are trying to achieve very ambitious military, strategic as well as political goals and the first results of those should be seen on Tuesday, when the two countries’ presidents attend the final day of the drills.

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