Sunday, 24 September, 2017

Russian War Games on NATO's Eastern Flank

Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces Micael Byden talks with U.S. soldiers during the joint NATO exercise 'Aurora 17' at Save airfield in Goteborg Estonia to send observers to Zapad exercise
Jerome Frank | 15 September, 2017, 00:55

The tanks' arrival comes just days ahead of Russia's controversial Zapad 2017 war games, conducted with its ally and neighbour Belarus.

The exercises that Russian Federation is conducting with its Eastern European ally, Belarus, have attracted intense attention amid nervousness over Moscow's recent military adventures and its tensions with the West.

The war games are under way in and around Belarus, involving armoured units, warships and aircraft.

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

He says that from Russia's perspective "the region where these exercises are taking place is far behind the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation frontline during the Cold War".

What messages do the drills send? Maybe neither side. After four years of Cold War-style standoff between Russian Federation and the West, sparked by Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, the trust gap between the two sides is vast.

Michael Kofman with the Center for Naval Analyses said at the briefing that the joint exercises will not only show the nuts and bolts of Russia's troop placement, but also Russia's ability to intervene on Belarus' behalf if it is threatened.

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.

"For Russia it would be logical to try to cut us off, which they have already practised", he said.

"This has been overhyped by the Western media", says Vladimir Frolov, an independent Russian foreign policy analyst in Moscow.

How many troops are participating? The official end date for the exercise is 20 September.

Code-named Zapad or "West", NATO officials say the drills will simulate a conflict with the US -led alliance meant to show Russia's ability to mass large numbers of troops at very short notice in the event of a conflict. "The great concern is they're not going to leave", General Tony Thomas, the head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, told a security conference in July, adding, "That's not paranoia".

"People are anxious this is a Trojan horse", U.S. Army Lt. Gen.

"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.

That many troops would make these war games among the biggest since the Soviet period, and the discrepancy in reports on the size has set off concerns among some about the drills' real objective and, in more alarmist quarters, even fears of invasion. "We reject complaints of these exercises not being transparent", said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Only non-NATO member Sweden is holding a large-scale drill.

NATO's chief Jens Stoltenberg told the BBC that Russian Federation has a history of using "big military exercises as a disguise or a precursor for aggressive military actions against their neighbors".

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