Su-35 planes have been dispatched to participate in readiness checks
Russia is sending advanced Su-35 fighter planes to neighboring Belarus to participate in scheduled military exercises amid rising tensions with NATO, Moscow's Ministry of Defense has said.
Military chiefs announced the redeployment in a statement on Wednesday, writing, "the crews of the multipurpose Su-35S fighters of the eastern military region... continue to rebase to Belarusian airfields. During their flights, the crews are making intermittent stops at the airfields of the central and western military regions, to rest and prepare for the next takeoff."
After they arrive in Belarus, the planes will take part in exercises designed to test the readiness of the combined anti-air defense system of Russia and Belarus, who are close military partners. The large-scale drills will also involve ground troops and are scheduled to last until February 20.
The Sukhoi Su-35 is a single-seat, twin-engine air-defense fighter of a type first developed in the Soviet Union, when it was known as the Su-27M. It was renamed the Su-35 after the dissolution of the USSR, and in 2008, a modernized version with a redesigned cockpit and weapons-control systems made its first flight. The aircraft has been exported to several other nations, including China and Egypt.
On Friday, the Ministry of Defense announced that it was moving two divisions of its S-400 Triumph air-defense systems, designed to take down enemy warplanes, into Belarus for the exercises.
Last week, the US State Department warned that the upcoming drills could be a sign that Russia is planning an invasion of Ukraine, with one official saying, "we are very alert to everything that Russia is doing. The fact that we're seeing this movement of forces into Belarus clearly gives the Russians another approach should they decide to take further military action against Ukraine."
The Kremlin has denied that it has any intention to attack its neighbor. Oleg Voinov, a senior Belarusian defense official, said that one goal of the drills is to practice "reinforcing the state border."