Russia and Belarus beef up joint military grouping, plan drills

Jan 5 (Reuters) - Russia and Belarus have beefed up their joint military grouping in Belarus with weapons, soldiers and specialised equipment, and plan to hold joint aviation drills, the Belarusian Defence Ministry said on Thursday.

Ukraine has repeatedly warned that President Vladimir Putin may try to use Belarus to launch a new ground invasion of Ukraine from the north, a step that would open a major new front in the war.

"The decision to create a regional grouping of troops on the territory of Belarus was made and is being implemented solely in the interests of strengthening the protection and defence of the Union State, based on the current situation near our borders," the Belarusian Defence Ministry said.

"Personnel, weapons, military and special equipment of the armed forces of the Russian Federation will continue to arrive in the Republic of Belarus," the ministry said.

The ministry said "combat coordination activities" were planned as well as air force drills.

"Joint training of the Belarusian and Russian components of the regional grouping of troops is complex in nature and covers not only the combat component, but also all supporting systems," the ministry said.

The ministry posted pictures of a train loaded with Russian BTR-82A and BTR-80K armoured vehicles arriving in Belarus.

"The delivery was carried out in accordance with the rearmament plan," the ministry said.

Belarus allowed Moscow to use Belarusian territory to send troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Reporting by Reuters; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Alex Richardson

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