Russia, Belarus To Kick Off Military Exercises Amid Tensions With West

Kristen Gonzales
September 15, 2017

The Kremlin firmly rejects any such plans. But this may change.

Russian Federation says some 13,000 troops from Russian Federation and Belarus will be involved in the September 14-20 drills, below an global threshold that requires large numbers of outside observers.

Ukraine - which neighbors Belarus - is especially anxious by Zapad. The Baltic States and Poland fear that these monikers are just poorly disguised terms for their own countries.

There is an information war going on for public opinion in NATO-member states too, with Western governments keen to bolster their case for increasing military spending to counter a resurgent Russian military. Such a scenario would require an additional collective response from North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, in particular to include additional assets deployed to the region, as well as strengthening the logistical infrastructure to facilitate reinforcement.

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko has warned - while speaking in the country's parliament - that the drills show that Russian Federation is "preparing for an offensive war of continental proportions" and planning "a new assault strike Ukrainian territory". Interestingly, invitations to 80 observers from Western and former Warsaw nations, including NATO, OSCE as well as all the diplomats serving in Balarus have been extended to watch the exercise but still alarm bells are being sounded that the exercise is threat to existence of neighbouring countries.

"Military units involved in the drill, including the Russian ones, are on the territory of the Republic of Belarus and have already started performing the set tasks", the Defense Ministry's spokesman noted. What's more, the exercises will likely be used to covertly increase Moscow's military presence in both Belarus and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

The operation was launched in April 2014 following the reunification of the Crimean Republic with Russian Federation following a referendum, which the USA and other Western countries refer to as an "annexation".

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One senior European security official said Zapad would merge manoeuvres across Russia's four western military districts in a "complex, multi-dimensional aggressive, anti-NATO exercise".

But NATO claims Russian Federation has kept it in the dark and could be massively underreporting the scale of the exercises, which some of the alliance's eastern members say involves more than 100,000 servicemen.

Rather, Zapad-17 matters as a demonstration of Russia's political intent as well as of Putin's political will.

The three Baltic states are watching with concern the latest round of Russian military drills that some analysts believe could be the largest of their kind since the Cold War. And Russia has past form here.

In the event of any potential Russian incursion into the Baltics or Poland, NATO's new multinational forces would quickly need large reinforcements.

Andrew A. Michta is the dean of the College of global and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.

Other reports by TheSundaySentinel

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