Russian Top Defense Official Says Zapad Exercises Don't Pose Threat to Europe

From planes, radars and ships in the Baltics, NATO officials say they are watching Russia's biggest war games since 2013 with "calm and confidence", but many are unnerved about what they see as Moscow testing its ability to wage war against the West. NATO believes the exercises, officially starting Thursday in Belarus, the Baltic Sea, western Russia and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, are already underway.

But Russia's defense ministry is also running concurrent exercises in other regions, including Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea.

Russia holds large-scale exercises are held every four years - since 1999 - and rotate through four operational strategic commands of the Russian Armed Forces (Western, Eastern, Caucus and Central). Some of the alliance's eastern members allege that Moscow has committed more than 100,000 servicemen to the war games, a claim that has been rejected by Russian Federation as flat-out wrong.

Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis said "we should not succumb to intimidation", describing Zapad as an attempt to make the Baltic states feel insecure.

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Western military analysts suspect that the real number of troops taking part in the manoeuvres could be between 70,000 and 100,000.

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officials say they are closely watching Russia's biggest war games since 2013 with many unnerved about what they see as Moscow testing its ability to wage war against the West.

The Zapad 2017 scenario simulates a situation in which the opposing sides are located within the actual borders of Belarus: on one side, "the Northern", which include the Belarus-Russia Union State, and on the other side "the Western", which represent a coalition of interested states such as Veishnoriya, Vesbariya and Lubeniya.

The Russians, unlike the Trojans, would not have the element of surprise in trying to breach their opponents' defenses during the Zapad drills.

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USA troops are now taking part in a multinational military exercise in Ukraine, an exercise that comes just days before Russian Federation is scheduled to launch their own massive military maneuvers that have put the region on edge. "The exercise is absolutely peaceful, and absolutely defensive in nature", Fomin told Germany's Deutsche Welle news service.

NATO's Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg earlier this month called on Russian Federation to "be fully transparent".

Moscow officials said the exercises are in no way meant to stage attacks on other places and that the West was "whipping up hysteria" over the drills, Reuters reported. Russia responded by stationing more strategic missiles and other forces in Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea where numerous Zapad drills will be held.

There is also unease in Kiev, and Ukraine is now conducting its own military exercises. "They say, 'We're just doing an exercise, ' and then all of a sudden they've moved all these people and capabilities somewhere".

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The exercises involve up to 12,700 servicemen, including around 7,200 from Belarus and some 5,500 Russian troops, of whom up to 3,000 will take part in maneuvers in Belarusian territory.

  • Ryan Wade