Jitters in Europe as Russia-Belarus war games set to begin

US troops take part in Ukrainian military exercise
Chung Sung-Jun Getty Images

15 September, 2017

According to the Kremlin, a key component of the exercise is repelling separatists in Western Belarus, who are supported by fictitious countries; however, since Russian Federation is doing just that in Eastern Ukraine, the drill's intention may not be so defensive after all. They say Russian Federation could use the occasion to position a large, permanent contingent of troops in Belarus, leaving the country at the mercy of any armed confrontation involving Moscow.

Staged tactical events and live-fire exercises set to involve aircraft and air defense units will take place at Belarus' Lepelsky, Losvido, Borisovsky, Osipovichsky, Ruzhansky and Domanovsky training ranges, in the Dretun and Glubokoye areas in Belarus, and also at the Luzhsky, Strugi Krasnye, and Pravdinsky training ranges in Russian Federation.

For some, that sounds uncomfortably like rehearsing a pretext for NATO's nightmare scenario, a Russian tank rush into the Baltic States. The primary goal in these quadrennial war games is to prepare Russian troops for a major war - by some European estimates, as many as 100,000 could take part in the manoeuvres from September 14-20 - with their "presumed opponents" being the USA and its allies.

The tanks' arrival comes just days ahead of Russia's controversial Zapad 2017 war games, conducted with its ally and neighbour Belarus.

The exercises began Thursday night with units simulating hunting down and destroying reconnaissance agents belonging to illegal armed groups, according to Oleg Belokonev, the Belarusian Deputy Defense Minister.

Moscow has held a stream of exercises since ties with the West plunged in 2014 over Ukraine, with the military claiming some drills included almost 100,000 troops.

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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Estonia last week that the military alliance would send three observers.

"The Zapad 2017 joint strategic exercises are being supervised by the Chiefs of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and Belarus and represent the final stage of joint training of the two states' Armed Forces", the statement said.

Moscow officials said the exercises are in no way meant to stage attacks on other places and that the West was "whipping up hysteria" over the drills, Reuters reported.

"We believe that the wave of hysteria around these exercises is absolutely provocative, as it is a common practice, it is the right of any country and the usual practice of carrying out such exercises". "History teaches us that we need to see and watch and prepare for the activities of Russian Federation", she added.

The exercises "used to include military forces from countries under the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet-led military alliance whose non-Soviet members have now all joined North Atlantic Treaty Organisation". It also serves to validate aspects of the Ukraine's military training program.

The exercises involve up to 12,700 servicemen, including around 7,200 from Belarus and some 5,500 Russian troops, of whom up to 3,000 will take part in maneuvers in Belarusian territory.

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