NATO allies dispute size of planned Russian war games

A man watches Russian military jets performing in Alabino, outside Moscow, on Aug. 12. (Photo: AFP), USA Today

Russia military's prepared to kick off a week of major combat exercises in maneuvers Moscow insists are not a threat to anyone but that NATO has warned could be a precursor for aggressive military actions against its Eastern European neighbors.


Russia's defense ministry said the large-scale drills — called Zapad 2017 — will involve 12,700 troops, 70 aircraft, 250 tanks and 10 warships. The war games will run from Thursday until Sept. 20 just over the border from NATO members Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

Russia's longstanding ally and former Soviet state, Belarus, will also take part.

In its official summary of the exercises, Russia's defense ministry said that the drills would see "the Northern ones" — Russia and its allies — stand up to aggression from "the Western ones" in a scenario in Belarus and the Kaliningrad region have been infiltrated by extremist groups who want to commit terrorist attacks.

"The illegal militias are backed from abroad, providing them with armaments and naval and air capabilities. In order to neutralize 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 defense forces, and the navy," the summary reads.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said this week while Russia has every right to conduct military training exercises, the nation was using "loopholes" to avoid scrutiny.

Germany is one of several NATO members who dispute Moscow's version that only 12,700 troops will take part in the drills. Ursula von der Leyen, its defense minister, said Russia has committed more than 100,000 troops to the war games.

"It is undisputed that we are seeing a demonstration of capabilities and power of the Russians," Von der Leyen told reporters at a recent meeting of European Union defense ministers in Tallinn, Estonia. "Anyone who doubts that only has to look at the high numbers of participating forces in the Zapad exercise."

Under joint guidelines, NATO and Russia have agreed that any military exercises involving more than 30,000 troops should be subject to international monitors. The drills have been planned for months and are not in reaction to sanctions Congress last month levied against Russia for its alleged meddling in the U.S. election, for its annexation of Crimea, and for its ongoing military operations in eastern Ukraine.

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Ki Monique
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