Zapad 2017 drills begin in Russian Federation and Belarus
15 September, 2017, 00:41 | Author: Ora Austin
Russian Federation has today kicked off its controversial week-long war games in Belarus and the Baltic, involving thousands of troops and military vehicles.
While NATO's increased presence in the Baltic and the threat of more severe sanctions means Russian Federation is unlikely to attempt to seize further territory from Ukraine or from neighbouring NATO members, the West will be watching cautiously.
Neutral Sweden, the biggest war exercise in 20 years with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation support, with 19,000 troops, after years of spending cuts that left the country, began to worry about Russia's growing military strength.
During the maneuvers, "Russian and Belarusian military command centers and armed forces units will practice joint efforts to arrange cooperation and comprehensive support in order to achieve the objects set for regional groups of forces", the statement said.
Get a daily geopolitical forecast. Ben Hodges, who leads U.S. Army forces in Europe, told Reuters that "people are anxious this is a Trojan horse".
The exercise in Ukraine comes as Russia is gearing up for its major military exercise, Zapad 2017, which is expected to involve tens of thousands of troops operating along NATO's borders in Western Russia, the Russian European enclave of Kaliningrad and Belarus.
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Still, the country with the most to fear from the exercises might be Russia's partner in the drills: Belarus.
'We can't be totally calm. And Russian officials say no more than 13,000 troops will be involved in the drills - to which NATO observers have been invited in accordance with worldwide treaties. "There is a large foreign army massed next to Lithuanian territory", he toldReuters news agency. "Today, the military exercise has shrunk to just two participants - Russian Federation and Belarus - but it is still viewed warily by military planners in the West", the newspaper says. In addition, based on the principles of the Vienna Document, the country has invitied two observers each from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Norway, Sweden and Ukraine to take part in a program taking place from September 16-20. Only non-NATO member Sweden is holding a large-scale drill.
"The security situation has taken a turn for the worse", Micael Byden, the commander of the Swedish Armed Forces, said during a presentation of the three-week-long exercise. "President Trump was also briefed about the Russian exercises, Zapad" in which has been anticipated by Western intelligence agencies that 100,000 troops would participate.
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.
They are there to emphasise Nato's determination to defend its allies - and Russia's closest Western neighbours.
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