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Russia: West whipping up hysteria around drills

Russia has criticized the West for “whipping up hysteria” about ongoing joint military exercises by Russian and Belarusian forces.

The exercises, code-named Zapad (West) 2017, started on Thursday and will last until September 20.

“We believe that whipping up hysteria around these exercises is a provocation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday.

The military drills are being conducted mainly on military ranges in Belarus, and also in western Russia, Russia’s exclave of Kaliningrad, and in the Baltic Sea.

Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces, formally notified NATO of the beginning of the exercises on Thursday evening, according to Russian media.

NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said last week that the alliance would be closely monitoring the Zapad exercises.

Some NATO members, including the Baltic states and Poland, have criticized a lack of transparency about the exercises and questioned Moscow’s real intentions.

This is while Russia and Belarus have announced that the exercises involve 5,500 Russian and 7,200 Belarusian troops, 70 aircraft, about 250 tanks, 200 artillery systems, and 10 navy ships.

NATO has complained about an alleged lack of transparency and not allowing enough Western monitors.

Peskov rejected those complaints.

“We reject complaints of these exercises not being transparent,” he said.

Relations between Russia and the West nosedived to their lowest level since the days of the Cold War in recent years after the then-Ukrainian territory of Crimea voted in a referendum in 2014 to join Russia. Russia is also being pressed by the West for allegedly supporting pro-Russia fighters in eastern Ukraine, where clashes have left over 10,000 people dead.

Moscow is also wary of NATO’s military buildup near its western borders.