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Russian Federation begins large scale Zapad 2017 military exercise in Belarus

15 September 2017

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies are concerned that Moscow might leave military equipment behind in Belarus when the exercises are over, perhaps to use later should President Vladimir Putin want to send troops quickly across the border, as he did in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014.

Russian Federation has always been wary of NATO's expansion eastward - toward Russia's western borders.

But Russia's covert annexation of Crimea in 2014, which was masked by military exercises, has changed perspectives.

What messages do the drills send? The exercises are held every two years alternately on the territory of Belarus and Russian Federation, the report says.

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By claiming that only 13,000 troops are involved, Russian Federation stays below the global threshold that requires large numbers of outside observers. This was stated by President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaite.

"Russia is still very, very unpredictable, and it has proved this unpredictability with its activities in occupying Crimea, Ukraine, and Georgia", she said. Steps to draw up a scenario for the drills took account of modern approaches to the application of forces on the basis of modern armed-conflict experience as well as joint measures of the Russian and Belarusian Armed Forces' operational training, the statement said. More than 10,000 have been killed in the war in Ukraine's industrial east, where the Kiev government is fighting pro-Russia forces.

Some 12,700 military personnel are taking part in the Zapad 2017 exercise. "The great concern is they're not going to leave", General Tony Thomas, the head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, told a security conference in July, adding, "That's not paranoia".

Western officials raise concerns Moscow may use drills as a "Trojan horse" to make incursions into Poland and Baltics.

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"Russia is the country that affects security in Europe right now with its actions - the annexation of the Crimea and continued battles in eastern Ukraine - so it is clear that we are watching very closely what Russian Federation is doing", Byden said. He added that he had no indications that Russian Federation is planning such a move.

Russia's Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin told the German Deutsche Welle television station that the Zapad drills, named after the Russian word for West, do not pose a threat to Europe.

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

Meanwhile non-aligned Sweden has mobilised 19,000 soldiers for its biggest drills in 20 years which also include units from across Scandinavia and the US.

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"Russia is the country that affects security in Europe right now with its actions - the annexation of the Crimea and continued battles in eastern Ukraine - so it is clear that we are watching very closely what Russian Federation is doing", Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces Micael Byden said, as reported by Reuters.

Russian Federation begins large scale Zapad 2017 military exercise in Belarus