Sweden holds the largest war games in 20 years

Helicopters take part in Zapad-2017 war games, held by Russian Federation and Belarus, at an undisclosed location in Belarus on September 14.

Concerns in the Western alliance were raised by the apparent difference between official Russian figures about the size of the exercise - 12,700 troops and 680 pieces of military equipment, including 138 tanks - and Western estimates, based on troop and equipment movements, that the number could range from 70,000 to as many as 100,000 participants.

Russia's Defence Ministry said Thursday that elite parachute units in several Russian cities had been placed on alert to be deployed during the exercises.

But even if the exercise concludes without incident, the current climate is simply unsustainable, according to General Philip Breedlove, the former U.S. Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, who retired in 2016.

The drills will be held until September 20 on military ranges in Belarus, western Russia, Russia's exclave of Kaliningrad and in the Baltic Sea.

However, officials from the western military bloc North Atlantic Treaty Organisation have cast doubt on this figure, saying the drills could include up to 100,000 personnel. "Polish Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz has termed the exercise as a threat to Poland". In August, Belarus' defense ministry revealed that its and Russia's troops would be repelling the forces of a fake state, Veishnoriya, supported by unspecified foreign backers.

None of these concerns are entirely unfounded; given Russia's revisionist behavior and its track record of covert military campaigns, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is wise to be on guard and vigilant. Thus, we should not focus only on (Sept.) 14-20, because this is the so-called active phase. Part of the goal is clearly to spook the Baltics. "It is far from being defensive, it is aggressive and this is unsafe".

Now we are better prepared: "we have more tools to deter and defense on our territory, we also help our partners and friends from North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to see more, hear more and know more", said Grybauskaite.

If Russia was planning a major offensive move, one might expect to see elements of its powerful Northern Fleet joining in the exercise.

A more sober assessment of Zapad suggests Russia's precarious position.

The Zapad exercises have rattled the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member Baltic states, which were once occupied by the former Soviet Union. Now, it must rely on lonely little Belarus, which has not been an entirely deferential partner.

Arrayed against the Russin-Belorussian alliance for the six-day war games are fictitious "aggressor countries" Veishnoriya, Lubeniya and Vesbasriya, which as The Associated Press notes sound to neighboring Poland and the Baltic members of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation like "poorly disguised terms for their own countries". Lukashenko has lately proven a deft middleman between the West and Russian Federation, as he seeks to distance himself from his image as a Putin puppet.

For Russia, Zapad has traditionally been a venue for testing its latest capabilities and tactics. "Russians will not seek confrontation, because they know that North Atlantic Treaty Organisation will be watching this event closely and is certainly ready to react", said Kestutis Girnius, a Vilnius University political analyst.

Vanessa Coleman

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