Belarus and its ally Russia said Friday they were holding joint military drills near Belarus’ western border with EU member Poland where a migrant crisis is unfolding.
Belarus’s defense ministry said on Telegram that a “joint battalion tactical group” of paratroopers from both countries was holding exercises at the Gozhsky range in western Belarus.
The ministry said the drills were carried out due to the “build-up of military activity” near the Belarusian border.
It added that Russian Il-76 aircraft and Belarusian military helicopters were involved in the drills, where servicemen were carrying out a “number of combat training tasks.”
In a statement carried by Russian news agencies, the defense ministry in Moscow said it had sent paratroopers to Belarus for joint exercises as part of a “surprise combat readiness check.”
Hundreds of migrants, mainly Kurds, have been stuck for days on the Belarusian-Polish border in near-freezing temperatures, with aid groups warning of a looming humanitarian catastrophe.
Western states accuse the Belarusian government of luring them to the country and sending them to cross into Poland in retaliation for previous sanctions over Minsk’s crackdown on the opposition.