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Belarus Hosts Joint Military Maneuvers With Russia

Акцыя супраць уводу расейскіх войскаў
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RFE/RL Belarus Service video of police cracking down to disperse an anti-Russian protest in downtown Minsk on September 9, timed to coincide with the arrival of Russian troops.

MINSK -- Russian forces have arrived in Belarus for the start next week of the joint Belarusian-Russian military maneuvers West 2009, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

The exercises are being held to train joint armed forces to provide security for the so-called Russian-Belarus Union State.

Belarusian opposition activists have called on Belarusians to protest the maneuvers, calling the event an "occupation."

Minsk-based military observer Alyaksandr Alesin told RFE/RL that the military exercises are very important for Russia, as it tries to preserve its presence on the territory of its traditional interests.

According to him, it is crucial for Russia to have Belarus not just as an ally, but an ally with very strong armed forces.

Alesin says Russia simply does not have enough military resources to be present in Belarus, which borders the EU, as the Caucasus and Chinese border are consuming its military resources enormously.

* CORRECTION: This item originally stated that the exercises had already begun. In fact, Russian troops arrived in Belarus on September 9 but the exercises are slated for mid-September.