Russian troops take part in tactical drills in Belarus

MOSCOW, Dec 8 (Reuters) - Russia said on Thursday its troops were taking part in tactical exercises in Belarus, amid fears that Moscow is pressing its ally to get more involved in the Ukraine war.

Belarus has said it will not enter the war in Ukraine, but President Alexander Lukashenko has in the past ordered troops to deploy with Russian forces near the Ukrainian border, citing threats from Kyiv and the West.

In a statement, Russia's defence ministry said, "Servicemen of the Western Military District ... continue intensive combat training on the ranges of the armed forces of the Republic of Belarus."

It added, "Combat training events are held during both daylight and at night.

"Servicemen are shooting from all types of small arms, as well as from mortars; they hone their skills in driving combat vehicles, pass psychological obstacle courses, study tactical medicine and other disciplines."

Video clips posted by the ministry showed Russian soldiers in snow gear training near tanks in a winter landscape, firing weapons including artillery.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what he called a "special military operation", triggering the deadliest conflict in Europe since World War Two.

Putin says he is defending Russian speakers in eastern and southern Ukraine and calls the war a watershed moment as Russia finally stands up to an arrogant West after decades of humiliation since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.

Ukraine and the West say Putin has no justification for what they cast as an imperial-style war of occupation. Ukraine says it will fight until the last Russian soldier is ejected from its territory.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, +79856400243; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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