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NATO training for nuclear arms near Russian borders: Defense minister

The Russian defense minister has warned that NATO has been engaged in war games involving nuclear weapons training at Russia’s western borders.

In a Friday statement, Sergei Shoigu described “all the buzz created by Western media” about a recent joint military drill by Russia and Belarus as a cover for NATO’s activities that involve “training for the use of nuclear weapons” close to the two countries’ borders.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu attends an ASEAN meeting in Pampanga province, the Philippines, on October 24, 2017. (Photo by AP)

NATO claims that Russia under-reported the number of troops that participated in the Zapad-2017 military drills it held jointly with Belarus on September 14-20, and that the military exercises could provide cover for a possible permanent relocation of military equipment near the Baltic countries. Some of the alliance’s eastern members allege that Moscow committed more than 100,000 servicemen to the exercises.

Russia and Belarus have dismissed the allegations, saying that the drills were purely defensive with no aim of threatening other states.

Servicemen take part in the Zapad-2017 joint military exercises between Russia and Belarus near the Belarusian town of Borisov on September 20, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Russia and Belarus need to boost bilateral military cooperation as “NATO is expanding its military presence near” the two countries’ borders, Shoigu said.

The minister warned that NATO’s actions “undermine strategic stability and make it necessary to take retaliatory defensive measures.”

Russia and NATO have had strained ties since a conflict erupted in eastern Ukraine some three years ago. More than 10,000 have been killed in the war in Ukraine’s industrial east, where the Kiev government is fighting pro-Russia forces.

Russia has long been wary of NATO’s expansion eastward toward the country’s western borders. The Western military alliance has deployed around 4,000 troops, consisting of four battle groups, to Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland in recent years.

In June, the US military and its Baltic allies staged a training exercise that included B-1 and B-52 bombers and 50 naval ships. The next month, 25,000 servicemen from 17 countries participated in a NATO training exercise in the Black Sea, which was monitored by members of the Russian military.

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