Zapad 2017 Exercise is an ongoing joint strategic military exercise of the armed forces of the Russian Federation and Belarus (the Union State) that began on 14 September 2017, conducted in Belarus as well as in Russia’s Kaliningrad Oblast and Russiaâ€²s other north-western areas. According to the information made public by the Defence Ministry of Belarus prior to the exercise, fewer than 13,000 personnel of the Union State are to take part in the military maneuvers, a number that does not trigger mandatory formal notification and invitation of observers under the OSCE’s Vienna Document. Western analysts, however, believed in July 2017 that the total number of Russian troops, security personnel and civilian officials to be involved in the broader war-games will range from 60,000 to 100,000, which would make them Russia’s largest since the Cold War.
Despite Moscow and Minsk repeatedly announcing the official numbers of personnel involved, some politicians have speculated over the figures, exaggerating them a dozen times over. German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen claimed that the upcoming drills would involve over 100,000 troops on the eastern periphery of NATO, showing a “demonstration of capabilities and power of the Russians.” The Russian military were “astonished” by those “baseless figures,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said in a statement last Saturday.
In early September, Aleksandr Turchinov, the Secretary of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, came up with even more impressive estimates, saying that Zapad will involve around 240,000 troops as well as 10,000 pieces of military equipment and 100 aircraft, what contradicts any official data.
The Zapad 2017 drills have been designed to test the operational compatibility of the Russian and Belarusian military forces and to practice anti-terrorist operations. According to the drills scenario, extremist groups supported with arms and supplies from outside have penetrated to Belarus and Russia’s Kaliningrad Region to carry out terrorist attacks.
Since 2016, concerns have been voiced in a number of NATO countries over Russia’s suspected ulterior motives and objectives in connection with the exercise. In early September 2017, the Warsaw-based Centre for Eastern Studies judged Zapad 2017 to have become “the core of an information war between Russia and NATO”.