Moscow reassures Nato over drills
Russia’s armed forces chief has dismissed western fears about the giant Zapad (meaning “west”) exercises with Belarus, which are due to start on September 14, at a meeting with Nato chiefs.
During a meeting in Azerbaijan, chief of the general staff Valery Gerasimov reportedly told Petr Pavel, chairman of Nato’s military committee, that the war games were “long-planned and defencive” and “not aimed against any third country”.
“Gerasimov focused attention on the main aim of the training: the defence [of Russia and Belarus]”, a ministry statement quoted Gerasimov saying.
Nato only said the meeting “demonstrates a clear mutual interest to maintain the military lines of communication”.
Zapad-2017 is concentrating minds in Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic States.
Moscow claims the exercise will involve about 12,700 troops, but Lithuania and Estonia allege as many as 100,000 soldiers could join the drills.
Germany’s Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen also said she was expecting around 100,000 Russian soldiers to take part.
Poland and the Baltic states “can count on us”, she reassured.
“I believe it is clear that we are witnessing yet another Russian demonstration of power and capabilities,” Von der Leyen told a defence ministers’ meeting in Estonia.
France’s defence minister Florence Parly condemned the exercise as a “strategy of intimidation” while Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said he saw no “imminent threat” but western forces would “monitor the activity closely”.
Another concern is Russian “hybrid warfare”, which involves propaganda and cyber attacks. Von der Leyen and her counterparts took part in an exercise called EU Cybrid 2017, in reference to the words “cyber” and “hybrid”. After a simulated cyber attack on a European defence establishment in Rome, the ministers were prompted to take control of the situation and respond.
Stoltenberg said the degree of openness about Zapad did not meet international standards, which require exercises involving more than 13,000 troops to allow international observers to visit.
In 2011, Nato and Russia agreed in Vienna that scheduled exercises involving more than 13,000 personnel would be monitored by the other side and the Organisation for Security and cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Russia has previously held concurrent exercises, all with fewer than 13,000 troops taking part, to disguise the overall numbers.
Three Nato representatives have been invited to observe but Stoltenberg said this “fell short of the transparency required by the OSCE”.
Nato says Russia used the pretext of exercises to move troops near Georgia in 2008 and Crimea in 2014.
Nato has recently deployed four battle groups, of 1,000 troops each, to Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland.
This week’s talks in Baku were the first between Russia and Nato since ties collapsed over the invasion of Ukraine in 2014.
Russian troops plan to move in large numbers up to the Baltic borders. Picture credit: Wikimedia