Russia Deploys Combat Robots and Belarusian Air Defences Tested at Zapad 2021 Drills

The Zapad 2021 joint strategic exercises were the latest of multiple major drills between the militaries of Russia and its only strategic partner in Europe, Belarus, under which the two were widely seen to be training to jointly repel a possible assault by the NATO alliance. With Belarus relying heavily on upgraded Soviet-era armaments, and having acquired from Russian or domestically developed some entirely new weapons systems such as the Su-30SM fighter and BuK-MB3K air defence system, the two post-Soviet militaries retain a high degree of interoperability. 

The two have moved to strengthen ties after Minsk’s relations with the Western powers soured in 2020 and multiple NATO states supported anti-government protests and riots in late 2020 - and subsequent imposed sanctions when these failed to topple the Belarusian government. Elaborating on the growing integration of Russian and Belarusian air and air defence units, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu stated: "

During the drills, we tested the work of the two combat centres for training Air Force and Air Defense specialists in Belarus as well as the organization of combat duty as part of the Unified Regional Air-Defense System of Russia and Belarus… the experience gained by Russian and Belarusian fighter plane crews will be considered in further work to protect the Union State’s air borders.”

Shoigu also revealed regarding the drills that they had seen the Russian Military deploy combat robots for the first time which proved effective at destroying simulated enemy manpower in urban areas, stating that the “reconnaissance and fire support robots Uran-9 and Nerekhta were used in the combat formations of combined arms units.” Regarding the sheer scale of the exercises, he noted: “Military command and control bodies practiced operation in the field at five proving grounds in Belarus and nine proving grounds in Russia. 

The Baltic Fleet's forces were dealing with their combat training tasks in the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland." The exercises were underway in both countries and at sea simultaneously and closely integrated Russian and Belarusian forces to jointly respond to threats. 

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