Russia's Zapad Military Drills Seek to Send a Message to the World

Estonia to send observers to Zapad exercise

Russia begins large scale Zapad 2017 military exercise in Belarus

Thousands of Russian and Belarusian troops are set to participate in the weeklong Zapad-2017 military exercises starting Thursday in Belarus.

The Belarus-Russia joint army exercise Zapad 2017 has kicked off in the two countries, BelTA learned from the Information and Mass Communications Department of Russia's Defense Ministry.

The exercises involve up to 12,700 troops, 70 warplanes and helicopters, 680 units of military equipment, including about 250 tanks, 200 guns, numerous rocket launchers and mortars and 10 warships, the ministry said.

Since then, they take place every four years and have been viewed as relatively routine.

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Washington sees the operation as a demonstration of U.S. commitment to Europe's security amid so-called Russian aggression in the region. Western analysts say the figure of 100,000 personnel taking part in Zapad comes from aggregating all these drills.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has stepped up security on Ukraine's borders while North Atlantic Treaty Organisation troops deployed in Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which border on Belarus and Russian Federation have been ordered to be watchful of any provocation and in case of air violation, disengagement measures by already deployed NATO-air-policing mission that guards the Baltic republics.

Russian Federation and Belarus plan to practice amassing troops in a scenario that pits them against terrorists infiltrating their borders from three different countries.

NATO has been critical about how transparent Moscow has been about Zapad 2017, saying it has failed to adhere to worldwide treaties by not allowing observers to monitor the exercise to ensure that it is not a cover for an aggressive military operation.

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Belarus has formally notified the OSCE that Zapad will be held on Belarusian territory from September 14-20.

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. "So obviously we are closely watching what Russian Federation is doing". "Today, the military exercise has shrunk to just two participants - Russian Federation and Belarus - but it is still viewed warily by military planners in the West", the newspaper says.

There is little concern that Russian Federation might use it to launch a real invasion, but Lithuania's defence minister Raimundas Karoblis, also voiced concern.

The main goals of the drills are to "update the operational compatibility of headquarters at different levels, promote the interoperability of prospective forces and weapons control systems, test new charter documents, and allow commanders of all ranks to practice planning events of a military nature and commanding forces on the basis of modern armed-conflict experience", the statement said.

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"It is a provocative place, and a provocative size, but I think we all understand that militaries are going to conduct military exercises", Kurt Volker, the USA envoy on the Ukraine conflict told BBC Radio on Thursday. Russian Federation had leased a naval base in Crimea from Ukraine prior to its seizure, and used troops deployed there to quickly take over the Black Sea peninsula.

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