Russian Defense Ministry confident relations with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation will be restored

Georgia Reed
September 15, 2017

"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.

The war games are under way in and around Belarus, involving armoured units, warships and aircraft.

Tensions between Moscow and the West have spiraled since Russia's 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula, and Ukraine is among the nations anxious Zapad 2017 could lead to further landgrabs.

This year's exercises, called Zapad ("West") 2017, are the first since Russian Federation annexed the Crimea in 2014. Interestingly, invitations to 80 observers from Western and former Warsaw nations, including NATO, OSCE as well as all the diplomats serving in Balarus have been extended to watch the exercise but still alarm bells are being sounded that the exercise is threat to existence of neighbouring countries.

What messages do the drills send?

But NATO claims Russian Federation has kept it in the dark and could be massively underreporting the scale of the exercises, which some of the alliance's eastern members say involves more than 100,000 servicemen.

Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis said "we should not succumb to intimidation", describing Zapad as an attempt to make the Baltic states feel insecure.

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But military analysts on both sides say the figures were misunderstood, and that the number of troops Russian Federation claims to have sent west do stack up.

But Western officials have said the maneuvers could include some 100,000 personnel in what they call a Russian show of power amid the ongoing standoff with the West over Russian aggression in Ukraine. More than 10,000 have been killed in the war in Ukraine's industrial east, where the Kiev government is fighting pro-Russia forces. 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.

Military analysts see such war games as a possible rehearsal for a Russia-NATO armed conflict as it is taking place very close to an area that analysts consider to be the most likely target of a Russian offensive.

"We urge Russian Federation to share information regarding its exercises and operations in NATO's vicinity to clearly convey its intentions and minimize any misunderstandings", Pentagon spokesman US Army Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza told CNN. It is being claimed that these exercises are Russia's contingency plans for a major conflict with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and allies.

Russia's Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin told the German Deutsche Welle television station that the Zapad drills, named after the Russian word for West, do not pose a threat to Europe.

Sweden has started its largest military exercise in over 20 years with almost 20,000 troops drilling on air, land and sea, including a contingent of over 1,000 US soldiers, amid rising military activity in the Baltic Sea region.

'It is all smoke and mirrors, ' the official said, adding that the Soviet-era Zapad exercises that were revived in 1999 had included simulated nuclear strikes on Europe.

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