24th Mar 2018

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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • 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.

EU rejects US trade 'gun to the head'

EU leaders demanded a permanent exemption from US tariffs on steel and aluminium - and ruled out any bilateral trade talks within the 1 May deadline set by Donald Trump.

News in Brief

  1. EU wants 'Paris' climate strategy within 13 months
  2. Workload of EU court remains high
  3. Spain's supreme court charges Catalan separatist leaders
  4. EU calls for 'permanent' exemption from US tariffs
  5. Summit backs guidelines for future EU-UK talks
  6. Macron support drops as public sector workers go on strike
  7. EU leaders condemn Turkey for illegal actions in Aegean Sea
  8. Parliament must publish 'trilogue' documents, court says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EUobserverStart a Career in EU Media. Apply Now to Become Our Next Sales Associate
  2. EUobserverHiring - Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience - Apply Now!
  3. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  4. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  5. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  8. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  10. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  11. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  12. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?

Latest News

  1. Nordic states discuss targeted Russia sanctions
  2. Commission sticks to its line on Barroso case
  3. Germany and France promise new Russia sanctions
  4. EU rejects US trade 'gun to the head'
  5. Tariffs and Turkey will top This WEEK
  6. EU leaders roll over Brexit talks amid Trump and Russia fears
  7. Europe needs corporate tax reform - a digital tax isn't it
  8. EU data chiefs rally behind UK over Cambridge Analytica

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  2. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  3. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  4. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  5. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  6. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  7. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  8. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementCondemns Facebook for Actively Promoting Anti-Macedonian Racism
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal Seed Vault: Gene Banks Gather to Celebrate 1 Million Seed Collections