Troops from Central Asia, Armenia, and Belarus are conducting military exercises with Russia near the borders of Estonia and Latvia.
The exercises are being held under the auspices of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Russia-led political-military bloc. It's the CSTO's annual exercise, but this year's location -- in the Pskov region, about 40 kilometers from the Estonian border, and only a little farther to Latvia -- is an intriguing one considering the ongoing tension between Russia and the Eastern European NATO members.
During the drills, the CSTO's rapid reaction forces "will conduct a joint operation to localize an armed conflict with the aim of restoring territorial integrity and defending constitutional order in a simulated CSTO member state, working out tasks for destroying irregular armed formations," the organization said in a statement.
The CSTO also seemed to try to play down the potentially provocative scenario. "The exercise plan is based on a simulated military-political situation, which is not connected to reality but was developed only for working out training issues related to deploying operational contingents of the rapid reaction force to the Eastern European region of collective security," the statement continued.
"We're conducting exercises in the Eastern European region. One of the main goals of the exercises is to get our forces, within literally hours, to arrive in any given region of collective security," added Valeriy Semerikov, the CSTO's deputy secretary general, speaking to reporters.
A total of 2,000 soldiers are taking part in the exercises, of which about 1,000 are Russian. Kazakhstan has sent about 70 soldiers in a nuclear, chemical, biological defense unit. Kyrgyzstan sent 50 soldiers of an unspecified type. Tajikistan sent the smallest unit, an air force platoon. The details about the Armenian and Belarussian contingents weren't disclosed, but they must make up the bulk of the non-Russian troops. Of those, only the Kazakhs and Belarussians came with their own equipment; the rest will borrow Russian gear for the exercises.
While the Central Asian contingents may be small, the Russian military cooks will be preparing an impressive array of Central Asian food for the participants, including plov, kulchetay, kyrdak, murkabob, and ganfan. The drills start August 23 and will continue until the 28th.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.