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15 September 2017, 12:38 | Katrina Lee
Russia's Looming Military Exercise: A 21st Century Trojan Horse?
As for the Russia-Belarus joint military exercise Zapad-2017 (West-2017) that are to kick off on Thursday, they are of purely defense nature, he stressed.
The objective of the exercise, according to Russian Federation and Belarus, is to improve the cooperation between the two militaries by simulating war games.
The war games run through September 20 and involve 5,500 Russian troops, 7,200 from Belarus, up to 70 aircraft, 250 tanks, 200 artillery pieces and 10 navy ships, according to Russia.
The most recent Zapad exercises, which occur every few years, took place in 2013, just before Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Washington sees the operation as a demonstration of USA commitment to Europe's security amid so-called Russian aggression in the region.
But Nato claims Russian Federation has kept it in the dark and seems to be massively underreporting the scale of the exercises, which some of the alliance's eastern members insist could see more than 100,000 servicemen take part.
While the Baltic nations fear the Zapad maneuvers may lead to a surprise Russian attack, the exercises have also been criticized by Belarusian opposition leaders.
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 danger has increased "This is part of a pattern, which we've seen developed over several years with a more asserted Russian Federation, a Russia which has tripled defense spending over the last years, which is using force against neighbors and which is exercising much more modern capabilities in a more aggressive way", Stoltenberg said.
In line with the "Russian aggression" narrative, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has also voiced suspicion that the war games could be used to move forces and equipment closer to NATO's eastern flank - an accusation which both Russia and Belarus have denied. "History teaches us that we need to see and watch and prepare for the activities of Russian Federation", she added. 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 huge. Grybauskaite believes that there's a "very large" probability that part of Russia's equipment, including troops, will be kept in Belarus after the military exercise. 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. It also serves to validate aspects of the Ukraine's military training program.
However, Russia has stressed that only 12,700 troops are taking part in the war games, which falls under the 13,000 threshold for mandatory monitoring under the Vienna agreement.
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