Russian military drills rattle Nato members
RUSSIA began major joint military exercises with Belarus along the European Union’s eastern flank yesterday in a show of strength that has rattled nervous Nato members.
Named Zapad-2017 (West-2017), the manoeuvres, scheduled to last until September 20, are taking place on the territory of Moscow’s closest ally Belarus, in Russia’s European exclave of Kaliningrad and in its frontier Pskov and Leningrad regions.
Moscow says the drills will involve 12 700 troops, 70 aircraft, 250 tanks and 10 battleships testing their firepower against an imaginary foe close to borders with Poland and the Baltic States.
In a statement announcing the start of the exercises, Russia’s defence ministry insisted the manoeuvres were “of a strictly defensive nature and are not directed against any other state or group of countries”.
But Nato claims Russia has kept it in the dark and seems to be massively underreporting the scale of the exercises, which some of the alliance’s eastern members insist could see more than 100 000 servicemen take part.
The war games come with tensions between Russia and Nato at their highest since the Cold War due to the Kremlin’s meddling in Ukraine and the US-led alliance bolstering its forces in eastern Europe.
Moscow has dismissed fears over the drills – the latest in a series of annual exercises that rotate around the vast country – as fuelled by the “myth about the socalled ‘Russian threat”.
The Russian war games come as Ukraine launched annual joint military exercises with the US and other Nato countries on Monday.
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.