Russia uses combat robots in massive exercise near Nato borders
Russia’s military has unveiled combat robots during its vast Zapad-2021 exercises with neighbouring Belarus, which will run until Thursday in locations close to Nato’s borders.
Platform-M remotely controlled combat robots are armed with grenade launchers and a machine gun, according to Moscow’s defence ministry. New Sarmat-2 tactical vehicles were also used.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has reviewed live firing drills in the Zapad (meaning “west”) drills, which have unsettled neighbours including Ukraine and Poland.
Lukashenko said Belarus is planning to buy Russian arms worth more than US$1 billion and is negotiating supplies of Russia’s prized S-400 air-defence missile systems.
Belarus is increasingly dependent on Russia since Lukashenko crushed popular protests in the wake of last year’s presidential election, which was internationally viewed as a sham and led to heavy western sanctions.
Minsk also maintains strong ties with the brutal military junta which seized power in Myanmar on February 1.
Russian President Vladimir Putin denied the war games are directed against any foreign nation and defended them as sensible given increased Nato activity on the alliance’s eastern borders.
The Russian defence ministry said the 200,000 personnel deployed for Zapad would return to their permanent bases by mid-October.
However, Nato watches major Russian military exercises with caution as they have previously preempted invasions of western allies, including Georgia and Ukraine.
Estonia has voiced concerns Zapad-2021 could herald a Russian invasion. Martin Herem, commander of the Estonian Defence Forces, said: “We need to realise [an attack on Estonia] may indeed happen in the coming years. Russia’s goal likely isn’t to occupy us – it does not want to gain control through occupation, but it enjoys instability and influence via instability.”
Putin is expected to review the drills this week.
The chief of the Belarusian general staff, Major General Viktor Gulevich, said the Zapad exercises should be a “signal” to Nato of the “futility” of taking “a position of strength” against the two former Soviet states.
Lukashenko told the media in Minsk: “This is one of the most important training activities of the armed forces, held against the backdrop of the ongoing hybrid aggression from the west against Belarus and Russia. We see new risks and challenges [to] the west,” he said, according to the Belta news agency.
Nato observers study Zapad-2017. Picture credit: Wikimedia