According to the defence ministry, Russia utilised modern battle robots and tactical vehicles on the second day of the active main phase of big military drills with its ex-Soviet partner Belarus.
The “Zapad-2021” war games, which will take place on Russia and Belarus’ western flanks, notably near the European Union’s borders, have frightened Ukraine and some NATO members.
According to the ministry, troops used Platform-M battle robots, which are remotely controlled and equipped with grenade launchers and a machine gun. According to Russian news outlets, this was the first time such weaponry had been utilised.
New Sarmat-2 tactical vehicles have also been used, Russian media said.
President Vladimir Putin denies the drills are directed against any foreign power and says they are sensible given increased NATO activity near Russia’s borders and those of its allies.
Neighbours such as Ukraine and NATO members Poland and Lithuania say such big exercises so close to the frontier risk being provocative.
“We need to realize that this (a Russian military attack on Estonia) may indeed happen in the coming years,” Martin Herem, commander of the Estonian Defense Forces said in an interview on Friday evening.
“Russia’s goal likely isn’t to occupy us – it does not want to gain control through occupation, but it enjoys instability and influence via instability,” the BNS news wire quoted him as saying.
The manoeuvres are held every four years, but this year’s drill has been seen as a particular signal of Russia’s support for Belarus and its leader Alexander Lukashenko, who has been ostracised by the West for cracking down on dissent.
Russia sees Belarus as a strategically important buffer to its west, and helped to keep Lukashenko in power with loans and political backing while he crushed a popular uprising last year.