Putin oversees war games that worry neighbors

The sprawling "Zapad-2021" live-fire exercises will run until Thursday at numerous sites in Russia and ex-Soviet Belarus, some of which are close to NATO's borders. They have caused alarm in neighboring countries such as Ukraine.

Monday's exercises focused on launching a counter-offensive against enemy forces, the Russian Defense Ministry said. In the Arctic, Russia's Northern fleet and air force practiced repelling an attack near its border with Norway.

Putin has said the drills - which the defense ministry says involve 200,000 personnel, as well as 80 planes and helicopters and nearly 300 tanks - are not directed against any foreign country and has called them a necessary response to increased NATO activity near Russia's borders and those of its allies.

The Russian leader flew into Russia's Nizhny Novgorod region east of Moscow with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, a close political ally, to review maneuvers taking place there.

Russia is due to hold parliamentary elections on Sept. 17-19. The ruling United Russia party that backs Putin is expected to secure a win despite a slump in its popularity.

NATO, which has accused Russia of under-reporting troop movements in the past, said it would watch the drills closely. NATO officials also warned that the drills increase the risk of an accident or miscalculation that could touch off a crisis.

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