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US used Zapad drills to illegally build up forces in Poland: Russia

Russia says the United States exploited a “hysteria” created in Europe around Russian military drills with Belarus to illegally build up forces in Poland and deploy an entire armored division in violation of a 1997 pact between Moscow and NATO.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement on Thursday that the breach took place during Russia’s large-scale military drills with ally Belarus — called Zapad-2017 — last month.

“Amid the hysteria over Russia’s planned military incursion right from the Zapad-2017 drills, the 2nd armored division of the US arrived quietly in Poland and was deployed there also with its armored vehicles,” Konashenkov said, as quoted by Russia’s TASS news agency.

“At the same time, the military equipment of the 3rd US armored brigade still remains in Poland and the Baltic republics,” he said.

The spokesman said an “unprecedented” and “fraudulent media campaign” against Russia accompanied “the Pentagon’s operation.”

The Zapad-2017 drills were conducted from September 14 to 20 at practice ranges in Russia and Belarus and involved up to 12,700 troops, up to 680 pieces of the armor and military hardware, about 70 aircraft and helicopters, and 10 warships.

Konashenkov said dozens of military attachés, monitors, and journalists saw for their own that the Zapad-2017 drills ended as scheduled and the units of Russian armed forces returned from Belarus to their permanent bases.

NATO countries had accused Russia of planning to indefinitely keep its forces in Belarus.

Russia is wary of the US-led NATO’s expansion on its doorsteps, where NATO has deployed around 4,000 troops, consisting of four battle groups, in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland in recent years.

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