Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko salutes while standing in front of servicemen during the joint Russian-Belarusian military exercises Zapad-2017 (West-2017) at a training ground near the town of Borisov on September 20, 2017. (AFP PHOTO)
MOSCOW, Sept. 30 (Xinhua) -- All the Russian servicemen who participated in Russia-Belarus military drills "Zapad 2017" have returned to their bases, the Russian Defense Ministry said Saturday.
The ministry's statement was in response to the claim by Viktor Muzhenko, chief of the general staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces,that the troops had been left in Belarus after the drills.
Muzhenko had said this in an earlier interview with Reuters.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov dismissed Muzhenko's words as a demonstration of his "professional incompetence," saying the latter had no knowledge of the operational situation hundreds of kilometers away, and had based his allegations on imagination.
"As for units of Russian troops that took part in the joint strategic exercise ... they all returned to their permanent deployment," Konashenkov said.
Zapad 2017, reportedly the largest military drills between Russia and Belarus since the Cold War, was held from Sept. 14 to 20. It has stirred up controversy over Moscow's "real intentions."
The West criticized "a lack of transparency" in the drills, while the Russian side repeatedly claimed the exercises were purely defensive in nature.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the drills involved up to 12,700 troops, 70 warplanes and helicopters, as well as 680 units of military equipment. More than 90 foreign representatives from over 50 countries attended the exercise as observers.