Zapad war games unnerve the West

15 September, 2017, 00:54 | Author: Colin Gill
  • US troops take part in Ukrainian military exercise

The main goal is to integrate the two countries' military headquarters in a realistic combat scenario.

Russia and Belarus say the exercises, which run until September 20, involve 5,500 Russian and 7,200 Belarusian troops. Up to 12,700 servicemen (about 7,200 from Belarus, some 5,500 from Russia), up to 70 aircraft and helicopters, up to 680 items of military equipment, including about 250 tanks, up to 200 guns, multiple rocket launchers and mortars, and up to 10 warships take part in the drills.

Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas inflated the numbers to as many as 100,000 Russian soldiers, supposedly to be mobilized during the exercise - a belief which has also been voiced by German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen. If troops have to redeploy, they travel to Russian exercise areas.

While the Baltic nations fear the Zapad maneuvers may lead to a surprise Russian attack, the exercises have also been criticized by Belarusian opposition leaders. For the purposes of the exercise the warring parties are located within real borders of Belarus: the Northerners, which include the Union State of Belarus and Russian Federation, and the Westerners, which are represented by a coalition of interested countries.

The West 2017 wide-ranging strategic exercise started on Thursday in Russian Federation and Belarus.

"The security situation has taken a turn for the worse", Swedish armed forces chief Michael Biden said during the three-week exercise. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told NATO troops in Estonia last week that the alliance will be closely monitoring Zapad exercises.

Russia's neighbors have gotten the message, and some fear the Russians may have another, more nefarious goal in mind with this year's Zapad (Russian for "West"). Underscoring Kiev's concern, the Ukrainian General Staff announced in August that, at Belarus' invitation, it would send two observers to the country to monitor the Russian maneuvers.

"The degree of mobilization is really impressive", Soloch said on private Radio Zet. Belarus, where numerous drills are taking place, borders three Baltic states and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies: Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

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"The drill is a threat to us, no matter what Russian Federation says", he told Polish TV.

There is also unease in Kiev, and Ukraine is now conducting its own military exercises.

The scenario for the Zapad-2017 exercise is an armed uprising in Belarus by "saboteurs" and "terrorists" backed by a fictitious country called Veishnoria.

"We are not threatening anyone", Oleg Voinov, an adviser to the Belarusian Defense Minister, told journalists Thursday.

"We have chosen [to use] military bases that are significantly removed from the borders with Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia", Voinov was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.

But Russia's covert annexation of Crimea in 2014, which was masked by military exercises, has changed perspectives.

She also noticed that the exercises are already taking place, although they officially will begin only today.

"Russia is the country that affects security in Europe right now with its actions - the annexation of the Crimea and continued battles in eastern Ukraine - so it is clear that we are watching very closely what Russian Federation is doing", Byden said.

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