NATO countries are justifiably nervous with the news that the Russian-Belarussian military joint strategic level exercises Zapad-2017 (“West-2017”) begin today, September 14 across the Russian’s Kaliningrad western military district and Belarus.
The Russians have used large exercises such as this, in the past to preposition troops and equipment before engaging in offensive operations, such as Georgia in 2008 and the Ukraine in 2014.
It is scheduled to last about a week, but may well go on for longer. The exercise is part of a four-year rolling cycle of manoeuvres that focus each year on one broad region or “front” (“West”, “Eastern”, “Central” or “Caucasus”). This year’s Zapad exercise though is drawing much greater attention than did its predecessor in 2013.
The context has changed significantly. Russia has seized and annexed Crimea; it has supported a separatist war in eastern Ukraine with weaponry, training and, for periods, its own combat units. Russia is thus seen by several Nato countries as much more threatening.
Just how closely is a contentious issue. Russia, unlike Belarus, has been far more reluctant to invite Western observers in any number. This despite the fact that, as a member of the OSCE international security body, it is obliged to send out broad invitations if an exercise numbers more than 13,000 troops.
Coincidentally, the Russians claim that the exercise will involve only 12,700 troops which would be below the OSCE threshold of 13,000. However, many of the western military analysts believe that this exercise will involve between 70,000 and 80,000 troops.
Zapad-2017 is scheduled to last only until September 20. Russian troops are scheduled to begin leaving the exercise area around September 30. That time frame between the 20th and 30th is when the tension will be highest for the European NATO countries. Will the Russians withdraw as they say, or will they stick around? If they do, then it will open up an entirely different set of circumstances.
To read the entire article from the BBC, click here:
Photo courtesy Wikipedia