A ranking NATO military leader said that Russia’s massive Zapad 2017 military exercises are really a “serious preparation for a big war.”

Gen. Petr Pavel, the head of NATO’s Military Committee, said the alliance wants to re-establish military-to-military communications with Russia to avoid “unintended consequences of potential incidents during the exercise,” which is winding down.

The exercises, which are occurring along the borders of NATO members Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, as well as non-NATO member Finland, are nothing new. They are conducted about three-to-four years, with the last Zapad evolution taking place in 2014.

But those exercises are said to have been used to mask Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, causing NATO leaders to speculate that this year’s exercises may also be a prelude to invasion — perhaps one of the Baltic states that used to fall under Moscow’s influence.

NATO and other nations sent observers to the war games, prompting Russian President Vladimir Putin to remark dryly, “They appear to be interested.”

Why it’s on our radar: Information in this article helps satisfy Priority Intelligence Requirement 1: What are the latest indicators of a NATO-Russia conflict?  Each week in our Strategic Intelligence Summary, we gauge the likelihood and scope of conflict with Russia, China, North Korea, and in the Middle East, and track the latest developments in each region.  Subscribe here to receive our premium intelligence products prepared by Intelligence and special operations veterans.