Russia on July 21 lambasted as "buffoonery" U.S. allegations that the Russian military might leave equipment behind in Belarus after holding large-scale military exercises there in September.
U.S. Army Lieutenant General Ben Hodges told Reuters in an interview on July 20 that NATO is closely monitoring the military equipment brought into Belarus for the Zapad 2017 exercise, and whether it is removed afterwards.
Hodges, who is the head of U.S. armed forces in Europe, said U.S. allies in Eastern Europe and Ukraine that have borders with Belarus are worried that the war games could be used as a means for Russia to permanently deploy equipment and personnel there.
"People are worried this is a Trojan horse," Hodges told Reuters. "They say, 'We're just doing an exercise,' and then all of a sudden they've moved all these people and capabilities somewhere."
Hodges conceded he had no indication that Russia had plans to do so, and Russia strongly denied the accusation.
"This artificial buffoonery over the routine Zapad-2017 exercises is aimed at justifying the sharp intensification of NATO bloc [activities] along the perimeter of Russian territory," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told Interfax on July 21.