Russia holds major army exercises in Belarus

Belarussian-soldierMinsk  - Thousands of Russian and Belarussian soldiers began joint training on Friday on the first day of a planned two weeks of war games and operational exercises.

Taking part in the Zapad-2009 manoeuvres are 6,000 Russian service personnel, 6,500 Belorussians and 30 Kazakhstani military personnel, officials at the Belarus Ministry of Defence said.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Belarussian President Aleksander Lukashenko were scheduled to visit training sites at a later date.

Belarus' Obuz-Lesnikovsky firing range and manoeuvre training centre is the operational base for most units, but units operating from two smaller Russian military bases near the Belorussian border would also participate, according to a Bel-1 television report.

A total of 228 tanks, 234 artillery pieces and 103 combat or transport aircraft were mobilized for the combat operations and gunnery training, according to the report.

Relations between Russia and Belarus have been rocky in recent years. Conflicts include the Kremlin's refusal to continue subsidies for energy delivered to Belarus, Belorussian efforts to get its manufactured goods into the Russian market, and a stalled treaty for adoption of a single currency.

But military cooperation has continued, with Russian early-warning radars operating in Belarus, and annual exercises featuring joint training for air and land battles against a potential opponent from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.(dpa)