Russia seeks to allay fears about war games
— In a bid to dispel Western fears about planned war games by Russia and Belarus, the Russian military said Tuesday the maneuvers simulating a response to foreign-backed “extremists” won’t threaten anyone.
The maneuvers, to be held Sept. 14-20 in Belarus and western Russia, have raised NATO concerns. Some alliance members, including the Baltic states and Poland, have criticized Moscow for a lack of transparency and questioned its intentions.
Amid spiraling tensions over fighting in Ukraine, Western worries about the planned maneuvers have ranged from allegations that Russia could keep its forces in Belarus after the drills, to fears of a surprise attack on the Baltics.
Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister, Lt. Gen. Alexander Fomin, rejected what he described as Western “myths about the so-called Russian threat.”
“The most improbable scenarios have been floated,” he said at a briefing for foreign military attaches. “Some have reached as far as to claim that the Zapad 2017 exercises will serve as a ‘platform for invasion’ and ‘occupation’ of Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine.”
Fomin said the Russian military will invite foreign observers to the maneuvers, which will involve 5,500 Russian and 7,200 Belarusian troops, about 70 aircraft, up to 250 tanks, 200 artillery systems and 10 navy ships.
Moscow’s assurances, however, have failed to assuage Russia’s neighbors, which expect the drills to be far greater in scope than officially declared.
Estonian Defense Minister Juri Luik said last month that Moscow could deploy up to 100,000 troops for the maneuvers. Poland’s Deputy Defense Minister Michal Dworczyk also questioned Russia’s official claims, saying that Warsaw expects many more Russian soldiers and equipment to be deployed.
Speaking Monday on Polish state Radio 1, Dworczyk expressed hope that the exercise “will not include any aggressive scenarios” and won’t cause any incidents, adding that “operations on this scale always run this risk.”
A man watches Russian military jets performing in Alabino, outside Moscow, Russia, in this Aug. 12 file photo. The Russian military says major war games, the Zapad (West) 2017 maneuvers, set for next month will not threaten anyone.