Thursday

19th Sep 2019

Russian war game to 'intimidate' Nato allies

  • Russian armour on show in May day parade in Moscow (Photo: Dmitriy Fomin)

Russian and Belarusian tanks, jets, artillery, and infantry have begun surging toward EU borders in a massive war game that is taking place amid real Russian aggression in Ukraine and Syria.

Called Zapad 2017, the two-week drill is meant to repel an attack by a fictional state, Veishnoriya, and two fictional allies, Lubeniya and Vesbasriya, that look a bit like Nato and EU countries Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, which currently host around 4,000 Nato troops.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Russian forces, dubbed "little green men", snatched Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 (Photo: Elizabeth Arrott/VOA)

According to Belarus and Russia, Zapad 2017 involves 12,700 soldiers and 250 tanks, as well as 200 pieces of artillery, 70 planes and helicopters, and 10 warships on the borders of the Baltic states, Finland, and Poland.

That would put the drill below levels that obliged Russia to invite foreign military observers in large numbers under a treaty called the Vienna Document, with Nato invited to send just three monitors and with a handful of military attaches from Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Sweden, and Norway to also drop by on brief visits.

But the fact that Russia openly requisitioned 4,200 railway wagons for the manoeuvres has led Germany and Poland to estimate that the real number of troops will top 100,000.

Speaking to Deutsche Welle, a German broadcaster, on Wednesday (13 September), Russian deputy defence minister Alexander Fomin said: "I can calm our dear neighbours straightaway. The exercise is absolutely peaceful, and absolutely defensive in nature".

But for Danish defence minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen, speaking on Danish radio on Thursday, the drill was designed to "intimidate the Baltic states".

There is little concern that Russia might use it to launch a real invasion, but Lithuania's defence minister Raimundas Karoblis, also voiced concern.

"We can't be totally calm. There is a large foreign army massed next to Lithuanian territory," he told the Reuters news agency on Wednesday.

Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato secretary general, warned earlier that Russia's lack of transparency "increases the risk of misunderstanding, miscalculations, accidents, and incidents that can become dangerous".

He said Zapad 2017 was part of a "pattern of a more assertive Russia" that has shown it was "willing to use military force against its neighbours", referring to Russia's invasion of Georgia in 2008 and its covert invasion of Ukraine three years ago.

The US has assumed command of airspace over the Baltic countries as a precaution and Ukraine has put its armed forces on alert.

For his part, the Polish deputy defence minister, Michal Dworczyk, said that even if the war game was peaceful, it could result in an increased threat in future.

"There are many doubts and fears that, because of the Russian Federation's previous actions, not all forces and equipment will be removed [from Belarus] after the exercise," he told reporters in Warsaw on Wednesday.

Phillip Petersen, a US defence analyst at the Potomac Foundation, a think tank in Washington, told Polish news agency Pap that Zapad 2017 looked like "preparations for an invasion of the Baltic states and Poland".

"We are heading into a dangerous period. It's not just about the two-week exercise, but probably also about the next two months, because the exercise helps them to be ready for an attack", he said.

The Russian drill comes at the same time as a Swedish exercise involving 19,000 mostly Swedish troops and 1,500 soldiers from the US, France, Norway, and other Nato members.

Sweden, which is not part of Nato, has said its exercise, called Aurora, was not timed to challenge the Russian show of force.

Nato soldiers will take part in a large Polish drill, called Dragon-17, on 25 September.

The Western alliance will also hold six small exercises in the Mediterranean Sea and in Germany, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Romania, and Turkey this month.

Analysis

How should the EU handle Russia now?

Should West help Russian opposition in its struggle against the regime, or make new deals with Putin, as France is keen to do?

News in Brief

  1. EU adds €100m to research and Erasmus budgets
  2. Ambassador: UK Poles should 'seriously considering' leaving
  3. Trump's UK ambassador stirs up anti-EU feeling
  4. Brexit chaos is lesson to other EU states, ECB governor says
  5. EU condemns Israel's latest land grab
  6. Scotland to keep some laws aligned with EU after Brexit
  7. Spain to hold fresh election in November
  8. Turkey ups pressure on visa-free entry into EU

Column

These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission

These developments will largely determine who will be running the world in the coming decades and perhaps generations. If the Europeans can't find an answer over the five years, they will be toast. And we haven't even mentioned climate change.

Opinion

Time to pay attention to Belarus

Belarus may be hosting the European Games, but Vladimir Putin is not playing games when it comes to Belarus' independence. The West needs to get serious as well.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. A new Commission for the one percent
  2. Juncker: No-deal Brexit 'palpable'
  3. Germany adopts blockchain strategy and says no to Libra
  4. Revanchist Russia continues to rewrite European history
  5. How EU trains discriminate against the disabled
  6. These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission
  7. Defending the 'European way of life' name splits MEPs
  8. Hungary claims EU 'witch-hunt' over rule of law hearing

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us