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West 2017 military drills kick off in Russia, Belarus

15 September 2017, 12:51 | Lucy Hill

Why NATO should use Russia's massive wargame as an intel dump

Estonia to send observers to Zapad exercise

Belarus state TV says 80 observers from Western nations, including Poland and the Baltic republics, are accredited to watch the exercise.

It didn't take long for Western commentators to make the inevitable comparison with the First World War and the mass train movements that set it in motion.

According to the Belarusian Ministry of Defense, the military exercises will be held on seven training grounds and in two separate localities in the territory of Belarus.

There is also unease in Kiev, and Ukraine is now conducting its own military exercises.

The upcoming Russian exercise has also caused considerable concern in Ukraine, where President Petro Poroshenko warned that Zapad-17 could be utilized to further threaten the territorial integrity of his country. And Russia has past form here.

"That happened in Georgia in 2008 when they invaded Georgia, and it happened in Crimea in 2014 when they illegally annexed Crimea", he told the BBC.

The US military commander in Europe, Lt General Ben Hodges, echoed such concerns in an interview this summer, admitting that: "people are anxious this is a Trojan horse".

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"While some missions are in progress in Russian Federation, the troops will not have to redeploy to Belarus". About 10,200 personnel will be deployed in Belarus, with Belarus contributing slightly more than 7,000 people and Russian Federation supplying about 3,000 troops.

In line with the "Russian aggression" narrative, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has also voiced suspicion that the war games could be used to move forces and equipment closer to NATO's eastern flank - an accusation which both Russia and Belarus have denied. According to the Kremlin, some 12,700 Russian and Belarusian troops will participate in the land, sea and air drills to last until September 20; other observers contend that more than 100,000 soldiers will be involved.

NATO's Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg earlier this month called on Russian Federation to "be fully transparent". The Russians, unlike the Trojans, would not have the element of surprise in trying to breach their opponents' defenses during the Zapad drills. As it said only around 3,000 personnel would be involved in the exercise, it looked like a clear sign it was hiding something.

"He's been playing this constant balancing act between the West and Russia", NPR's Kim says. If troops have to redeploy, they travel to Russian exercise areas. He added that he had no indications that Russian Federation is planning such a move.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Russia's nearest Western neighbor, Finland, is keen to play down any immediate threat.

"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".

Some Western statements are "akin to crying wolf", agrees Michael Kofman, an expert on the Russian military at the Center for Naval Analysis, a United States think tank. So, should not concentrate on 14-20 September, because this so-called active phase, and in fact is a VIP-like part when guests arrive, pass the demonstration exercises.

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