The Russian government on Tuesday moved to calm fears that massive war games scheduled to begin next month are not a precursor to an invasion of Poland, Lithuania or Ukraine.
The games, Zapad-2017 (West 2017), are designed to be defensive in nature, Moscow said, but U.S. and NATO military officials remain wary nonetheless.
Russia has used the cover of war games in the past to launch military action against Georgia and Ukraine; for Zapad 2017, Russian training will take place in ally Belarus, and U.S. and NATO officials think that Moscow may leave behind equipment there for later use — “Trojan horse,” as Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the U.S. Army’s top general in Europe, has said.
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says he thinks “substantially more” Russian troops will be taking part in the exercises than the Kremlin has announced. He added that the alliance will be paying close attention to the exercises.
The drills will be held from Sept. 14 to 20 in Belarus, western Russia and Russia’s exclave of Kaliningrad. The Kremlin said the drills will simulate an attack by extremist groups.
Moscow says almost 13,000 Russian and Belarussian servicemen will take part, as well as around 70 planes and helicopters. Almost 700 pieces of military hardware will be deployed, including almost 250 tanks, 10 ships and various artillery and rocket systems.
Why it’s on our radar: Anytime Russia amasses this much firepower, the U.S. and NATO should be wary, especially given Moscow’s tactic of using exercises to mask invasion, as it has done twice in recent history. As for whether there will actually be an invasion of any of these countries, that depends primarily on whether doing so is in line with Russian interests.
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