Russian “Zapad” Military Exercises Fuel Western Concerns

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Elijah Ford, Staff Writer

The Russian Federation commenced a joint military exercise with its neighboring country, Belarus, on September 14, which was considered to be one of the most sophisticated and large-scale exercises in history. The problem was many Western countries and their allies were left concerned about Russia due to the nation’s actions in the past years, such as the several invasions they had made into Georgian territory back in 2008, then Ukraine in 2014, followed by Syria in 2015. These events have also led to the frozen conflicts within the aforementioned countries. It is believed that the number of Russian military officials that were involved in the exercises ranged from 60,000 to 100,000, which made it the country’s largest exercise since the one done during the infamous world-shaking Cold War period. It was rumored that the purpose of these exercises was to practice hunting down and eliminating hostile spies as well as other strategic maneuvers; however, the exact nature of them remain unclear. Some were speculating that this could have been a preparation for a war, or something much bigger. What also complicated the situation was that many citizens in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, openly protested these exercises and Russia’s presence within their country with the hopes of Russia not using and annexing their land as a permanent training ground, like the nation had done to Crimea back in 2014.

As mentioned before, NATO and other Western-allied countries have been uneasy with the exercises. Russia previously utilized “large numbers of troops being on the move for major exercises to launch real military operations against Georgia and Ukraine,” according to a CNN.com. These large-scale exercises were used as a “disguise for the invasion of Georgia in 2008, according to nymag.com. Both of these statements greatly explained the reasoning for NATO’s weariness towards Russia’s war exercises, and it would not be a surprise if they were to take serious precautions because of this. In fact, Pawel Soloch, a National Security Bureau head of Poland, another neighboring country of Russia, has said that the military exercises were “a demonstration of the Russian state’s capacity to hold full-scale war.” Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite openly expressed that the war exercises are a “sign that the Kremlin is preparing for a conflict with NATO,” as stated in the NY Daily News.

Despite the Russian Federation having stated that the exercise poses no threat and was nothing more than a way of training their armed forces, NATO still monitored the nation’s movements closely in a covert manner in fear of any real threats occurring during the aforementioned war exercises. As Russia never allowed any international observers to view the war exercises nor disclosed any important information regarding it, the true nature of the exercises was what really raised the questions, more importantly what the nation was really planning behind it. In fact, this caused much hysteria to the point that it made NATO believe that the exercises would’ve continued after September 20, its official end date. Antoni Macierewicz, the Polish Defense Minister, in an unian.info article, even suggested that the exercise would’ve “continued with the use of nuclear weapons” that was not “initially in their schedule.”

However, to this day, no known confirmation has been made about the usage of nuclear weapons during the said exercises. Another major event that was sparked from this was Poland launching their own military exercise codenamed Dragon 17 on September 20 in Zegrze, north of its capital city Warsaw, which was coined by the Russian media as “NATO’s reply to Russia’s Zapad 2017.” Dragon 17 began on September 20, the same day Zapad ended, and finished on the 29th of September. Despite the exercise not being a threat to any of Russia’s competitors, NATO and its allied countries will continue to take major precautions as a way of maintaining peace.

 

* photo via Google Images under the Creative Commons license