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Russia: CIS Members Hold Military Exercise In Southern Astrakhan Region

Prague, 30 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Troops from Russia, Belarus, Armenia, and Tajikistan today took part in a joint military exercise in the southern Russian region of Astrakhan.

Code-named "Combat Commonwealth 2001," the maneuvers involved about 2,000 servicemen, 30 antiaircraft batteries, and 20 warplanes. They were held at the Russian Ashuluk military base, a former Warsaw Pact anti-aircraft training center located near the Kazakh border.

Russia, Belarus, Armenia, and Tajikistan are part of a military alliance known as the CIS Collective Security Treaty. Other members include Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

Georgia and Azerbaijan attended today's exercises as observers although both withdrew from the Collective Security Treaty two years ago. Officials from Moldova, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine also attended as observers.

Kyrgyzstan, which has participated in CIS exercises since 1998, declined to take part, saying the games would be too burdensome for the state budget.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said the drill was aimed at testing the combat readiness of CIS antiaircraft defenses.

Troops used S-125 and S-300 antiaircraft batteries, as well as Su-27 and Su-25 jet fighters and bombers. For approximately two hours, Russian, Belarusian, Armenian, and Tajik antiaircraft forces simulated a fight with enemy warplanes and tactical cruise missiles trying to invade their air space.

Speaking to journalists after the exercise, Ivanov said that, in his view, it had fully demonstrated the efficiency of the CIS air defense forces:

"There was almost no element of show, and I want to assure you that the firing crews did not know when the targets would be launched. They worked like under normal combat conditions."

Earlier this year (18-22 June and 22-23 August), Russian and Belarusian forces held war games in the Siberian Transbaikal region and in the Russian western enclave of Kaliningrad, sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania. Both exercises were part of the "Combat Commonwealth 2001" maneuvers.

Although the military did not elaborate on the identity of the mock enemies in today's games, Russian media reported that the soldiers were simulating conflicts with adversaries named "Westland" and "Southland." Commonwealth soldiers were identified as "Northland."

On 28 August, the AVN military news agency quoted a spokesman for the Ashuluk military base as saying "Westland" comprised the United States and other NATO countries. "Southland" represented Afghanistan, Pakistan, and rogue elements of the Tajik opposition.

The spokesman said that in the early stage of the exercise, "Westland" was said to be planning a military operation against "Northland," while "Southland" was carrying out reconnaissance and logistical flights in Central Asian air space to support Islamic guerrillas operating in the area and in Chechnya.

As part of the mock scenario, Poland was to put forward a territorial claim against Belarus, while the U.S., alleging that Moscow no longer abides by international disarmament treaties, presses the UN Security Council to impose a trade embargo on Russia and to take control of its nuclear ammunition depots.

Finally "Westland" and "Southland" launch air strikes against Russian and CIS military facilities.

The Russian "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" daily described the scenario as "an odd mix of Cold War anachronisms and elements of a new understanding of the world." The paper wrote that on one hand, Moscow continues to see NATO as an enemy. But on the other, military strategists had given up their outmoded tactics based on blitz offensives and nuclear weapons.

The website says this is the first time since the end of the Cold War that mock enemies in a Russian-led war game were so clearly identified.

The next stages of "Combat Commonwealth 2001" will be held next month in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.