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The drills got underway at the same time Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted a visit from Mr Lukashenko in Sochi, further underlining Russia’s support in the wake of the Belarussian President’s controversial election victory last month. Speaking yesterday, a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry said: “In accordance with the Plan of international activity for 2020, on September 14-25, joint Belarusian-Russian tactical exercises Slavic Brotherhood, which have been held annually since 2015, will be carried out on the Bretsky firing range in the Republic of Belarus.”
Paratroopers from the Pskov airborne assault division will take part in the exercises, during which they will work alongside Belarussian troops.
Russian forces arrived in Belarus by railways, with roughly 300 Russian servicemen and nearly 70 units of combat and special equipment of the airborne assault division taking part, the spokesman said.
There were no plans for them to stay in the country after the conclusion of the exercises, he emphasised.
Originally the Slavic Brotherhood-2020 trilateral drills, involving the forces of Russia, Serbia and Belarus, were intended to begin later this month.
Last year’s drills were held in Serbia, while in 2018 they took place in Russia.
Serbia is not involved this time around because the European Union demanded Belgrade cancelled its involvement, Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin previously announced.
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As a result, the Serbian government decided to freeze all military drills with other countries for six months.
The ministry insists the decision on holding these exercises was made in October 2019 – significantly before Mr Lukashenko was re-elected amid widespread claims of vote-rigging.
His opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, was forced to flee to Lithuania, and is now living in exile in Poland, while widespread protests has seen demonstrators clash with police amid claims of brutality and torture.
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Mr Putin’s meeting with Mr Lukashenko is a public show of support in his leadership – and follows the Russian leader’s indication that he was ready to provide security assistance in quelling protests in Belarus if asked.
Mr Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agency Tass today: “The talks have kicked off.”
The Kremlin press service said they would focus on ways to improve the countries’ strategic partnership.
Special attention will be paid to issues related to trade, the economy, and energy – although no documents will be signed.
Speaking last month Mr Putin said: “Lukashenko asked me to form a certain reserve of law enforcement officers, and I did it.
“But we agreed that it will not be used until the situation starts to get out of control.”
Tory MP Sir Roger Gale, the leader of the 18-member UK delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), a 47-nation international organisation dedicated to upholding human rights, democracy and the rule of law, voiced his concerns about Mr Putin’s remarks.
Sir Roger said he was “absolutely” convinced the current preoccupation with Beijing had led many in the UK to “take its eye off the ball” when it came to the threat posed by Moscow.
He added: “The real threat is Russia, not China, make no mistake about it.
“We are talking about a new Soviet Union. I play a game sometimes – you take an atlas, open up a map of northern Europe, turn it around and look at it from the North Pole down.
“You suddenly realise what Russia is about, and what their territorial ambitions are and where – it’s so simple, the game Putin is playing.”
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