China and Belarus are holding joint military exercises close to the NATO-EU border

During the joint counter-terrorism drills "Attacking Falcon" in Belarus, servicemen from both countries will "act together" as a single unit at certain stages, Major General Vadim Denisenko said.

China and Belarus began an 11-day joint military exercise on July 8, the Ministry of Defense of Belarus said. They take place just a few kilometres from the border of Poland, a member of NATO and the EU.

During the joint counter-terrorism exercise "Attacking Falcon" in Belarus, servicemen from both countries will "act together" as a single unit at certain stages, Major General Vadim Denisenko of the Belarusian army said in a Telegram post.

"Events in the world are complicated, and the situation is complicated, therefore, having studied new forms and methods of conducting military operations, here we will work out all these moments, taking into account everything new that has been learned in the last two years," said Denisenko.

The joint exercises are being held at a training ground near Brest on the border between Belarus and Poland. They come as Russia's invasion of Ukraine more than two years ago has deepened geopolitical divisions and continues to threaten broader regional security.

Beijing and Minsk have strengthened ties in recent years under Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, both autocrats and strong allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The start of the anti-terror drills coincided with a visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to Warsaw, where he signed a security pact with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

They also began on the eve of NATO's 75th anniversary summit in Washington, where leaders will try to bolster support for Ukraine.

NATO and the EU have long accused Belarus of weaponizing the border by pushing third-country asylum seekers towards it, and the joint exercises will no doubt be seen by some as a further provocation.

Belarus is a critical Russian ally in the Kremlin's war in Ukraine. Moscow is partly using Belarus as a launching pad for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 after massing troops on the Ukrainian border during what it says were joint military exercises. Last year, Putin also announced that Russia would deploy tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus.

China has become a key diplomatic and economic lifeline for Russia since it invaded Ukraine and has been accused by Western leaders of supporting Moscow's war effort by providing dual-use goods, a charge Beijing denies.

The Ministry of Defense of Belarus announced that servicemen from the People's Liberation Army of China arrived in Belarus over the weekend. It released a series of photos showing Chinese troops unloading equipment from a military cargo plane and said the exercise would continue until July 19.

On July 7, China's Ministry of Defense said the exercises would include "hostage rescue operations and counter-terrorism missions."

"The objective of the exercise is to increase the training levels and coordination capabilities of the participating troops, as well as to deepen the practical cooperation between the armies of the two countries," it added.

Over the weekend, a delegation from China's Central Military Commission also held talks with their counterparts in Minsk, where the two sides discussed "prospects for Belarusian-Chinese military training cooperation" and outlined new areas of cooperation, according to the Belarusian Defense Ministry.

This latest display of their security cooperation comes just days after Belarus joined the Beijing- and Moscow-backed Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on July 4.

Founded in 2001 by China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to fight terrorism and promote border security, the SCO has grown in recent years as Beijing and Moscow push to transform the bloc from a regional security club with an emphasis on Central Asia in a geopolitical counterweight to Western institutions led by the US and its allies.

The accession of Belarus to the bloc – welcomed by Xi and Lukashenko at a meeting on the sidelines of the SCO summit in Kazakhstan last week – was widely seen by observers as another sign of this transformation.

Xi then hailed "great progress" in relations between the two countries, a sentiment echoed at a meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his newly appointed Belarusian counterpart Maxim Ryzhenkov on July 8 in Beijing.

Wang and Rizhenkov agreed that the two countries would "firmly support each other" on issues related to their core interests and core problems, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry report, which also noted their commitment to "reject unilateral hegemony ” – a reference to their common opposition to the world order, which they believe is dominated by the US. | BGNES