Zapad military exercises in Belarus raise tension11/09/17Defence
Billed as a military exercise, Russian and Belarusian forces begin Zapad-2017 this week, as neighbouring countries observe activities nervously.
Zapad-2017 – West-2017 – is a joint strategic-level exercise which involves Russian and Belarusian military forces, and is expected to begin on Thursday (14 September) in Kaliningrad, Russia’s western military district, and across Belarus.
The exercises are scheduled to last for around a week, but could continue for longer. The exercise is part of a four-year rolling cycle of manoeuvres which focus each year on one broad region or “front” – “West”, “Eastern”, “Central”, or “Caucasus”.
This year’s Zapad exercise is drawing heightened attention in comparison to its predecessor in 2013.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko described Russia’s build-up to the exercise as “preparations for an offensive war on a continental scale”. Meanwhile, Ukrainian border defences, he said, are being bolstered.
On the War on the Rocks website, US analyst Michael Kofman wrote: ‘The Russian leadership is probably still afraid: afraid the United States will try to make a bid for Belarus, afraid of American technological and economic superiority, afraid the US seeks regime change in Moscow, and afraid Washington desires the fragmentation of Russian influence in its near abroad, or … Russia itself.”
Russia says that around 12,700 troops will be involved in total, which includes a significant contingent from Belarus.
However, some estimates suggest that up to 80,000 troops could be involved; since there are a range of drills, exercises and spot mobilisations, it is difficult to provide a precise number.
Russia will be testing its capacity to contain and respond to forms of outside aggression and will be deploying units from different services: heavy armour; airborne troops; ‘spetsnaz’ elite reconnaissance teams; and electronic warfare specialists.
‘Russian troops are only scheduled to leave Belarus by 30 September – after the observers have departed, and when the media interest will have died down. That will be the time to decide whether Zapad this year has in fact passed off peacefully,’ Kofman added.