KYIV, Sept 16 - Ukraine and the United State will start joint military exercises in western Ukraine next week, the Ukrainian General Staff said on Thursday, days after Belarus and Russia staged large-scale drills that have concerned neighboring countries, Reuters reported.
The "Zapad-2021" war games ran on Russia and Belarus' western flanks, including sites close to the European Union's borders, and alarmed Ukraine and some NATO countries.
Ukraine said the "RAPID TRIDENT – 2021" exercises would involve 6,000 troops from 15 countries - Ukraine, the United States and other NATO members – and would last till Oct. 1.
Last year’s exercise only involved 4,100 personnel.
"The main goal is to prepare for joint actions as part of a multinational force during coalition operations," it said in a statement.
Ukraine views the military exercises with Western partners as an important step on the path to NATO, believing that membership in the alliance would strengthen the country's resistance to Russian aggression.
The exercise is the final phase of a longer annual training exercise, which seeks to better prepare Ukrainian land forces for real-world defense challenges.
The exercise is a part of ongoing efforts to improve defensive capabilities in Ukraine, according to the Army. It comes less than a month after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s Aug. 31 meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the country’s defense minister, Andrii Taran.
The meeting focused on strengthening the strategic partnership between the two countries — particularly in the wake of the Donbas war and annexation of Crimea. During their rendezvous, Austin and Taran signed the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Defense Framework.
“The United States and our allies are committed to supporting Ukraine’s right to decide its own future foreign policy, free from outside interference,” Austin said in the August meeting.
September’s exercise will take place at the International Peacekeeping Security Centre near Yavoriv, Ukraine, and will follow COVID-19 safety measures, the news release said.
Kyiv's relations with Moscow deteriorated in 2014 after Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine and backed pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s Donbass region. The seven-year war with separatists killed more than 13,000 people.
Ukraine's relations with Belarus also have worsened since Kyiv called the 2020 presidential election in Belarus neither free nor fair and condemned violence against protesters. (rt/ez)