Russian Army

Russia's 'Zapad 2017' military exercise has attracted a lot of attention globally - and it hasn't even got going yet.

So what's it all about?

Russia's largest exercise since the Cold War?

 

Zapad 2017 has the potential to be Russia's largest military exercise since the end of the Cold War. The war games, which happen every four years, will be held from 14th - 20th September.

They are planned well in advance, with members of other countries invited to behold Russia's military might. Their roots hail back to Soviet days where Zapad '81 saw 150,000 Warsaw Pact military personnel taking part.

In 2017, Russian figures number troops participating in Operation Zapad at 12,700. Some Western analysts dispute this, believing the number to be up to 100,000 - breaking the 2011 Vienna Document that limits numbers to 13,000.

Exercises take place along Russia's eastern border and down into Belarus and Kaliningrad - which lies next to NATO members Lithuania and Poland and close to Estonia and Latvia.

Operation Zapad 2013
The large exercise last took place in 2013

The plan:

 

According to the scenario released by defence officials in Moscow, the war games will be centred around extremists infiltrating the Belarussian and Kaliningrad regions with intent to carry out terrorist attacks.

The official summary of exercises from the Russian Ministry of Defence reads:

"The illegal militias are backed from abroad, providing them with armaments and naval and air capabilities." 

"In order to neutralise the opponents, land forces will be deployed to cut off their access to sea and block air corridors in the region, with the support of the air force, air defence forces, and the navy."

The internationally-backed terrorists of Veishnoria, a made-up nation situated at the top-left of Belarus will look to overthrow the country.

Zapad troops must neutralise the threat while battling armed attackers from bordering countries and fictional foes, Vesbaria and Lubenia.

Vesbaria and Lubenia, two 'Baltic nations', look to control the corridor that links Kaliningrad with Belarus, and thus access to the Baltic Sea.

Stage one:

 

Air force capabilities will be the first defence assets the military intends to invoke. The aim is to protect key military and state objects, then focus on isolating the Veishnorian threat.

Air power will ensure that foreign military hardware, supplies and logistics assistance to the terrorists cannot be established. The navy will then conduct a Baltic blockade of the enclave.

Official Russian figures show 70 aircraft and helicopters will be used in the operation, as well as 10 warships.

Stage two:

 

The second stage will focus on ground efforts. 280 tanks, 200 artillery weapons and thousands of troops will look to quell aggression.

Agents from the Russian intelligence service (FSB) and both Russian and Belarusian troops will be involved in operations. Those on the ground will be challenged to react to fast-changing situations while still offering support.

Operation Zapad 2013
Naval operations during Zapad 2013

The scene:

 

Most of the anti-terror exercise will take place in seven locations in Belarus.

Kaliningrad, however, will see some action as well as various sites in western Russia such as Pskov, Leningrad and Saint Petersburg.

The exercise area and conditional terrorist's home "Veishnoria" has been drawn on a map over part of Belarus.

More: Russia vs Britain: How Do The Militaries Stack Up?

This area is in real life populated largely by Polish people, who have not been shy in demonstrating little support for the President of Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Some Western media outlets have hinted to there being no coincidence that the area is more likely to produce separatists. However, Lieutenant General Fomin, Deputy Minister of Defence of Russian Federation, refuted that idea:

"It is to be reminded that the Zapad 2017 anti-terror exercise is a purely defensive one… Despite the fact that [the] main part of the exercise is carried out on the territory of the Republic of Belarus, the exercise scenario is a simulated one, and does not provide any ties to a particular region."

"According to the assessments, it can break out in any place of the world."

 

NATO:

 

NATO officials have been vocal in their concern over Zapad, saying they have been watching how Russia prepares for the games. There are currently over 7,000 alliance troops stationed in the Baltics. 

 U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft from the 52nd Fighter Wing, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, takes off from Lask Air Base, Poland,
NATO's Spangdahlem Air Base

The US Army has stationed 600 paratroopers as a precaution in the Baltics, as well as continuing to guard the airspace of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

More: Exercise Wildjack Fire: Where Bomb Disposal Experts Hone Their Skills

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