NATO concerned about Russian military games
TIRANA, Albania — A senior NATO official said there’s reason to be concerned about the largescale Zapad 2017 military maneuvers being conducted now by Russia and Belarus, since they could be seen as “a serious preparation for big war.”
Gen. Petr Pavel, head of NATO’s Military Committee, said in an interview Saturday that NATO is increasing efforts to re-establish militaryto-military communications with Russia to avoid any “unintended consequences of potential incidents during the exercise.”
The defense chiefs of NATO countries were holding their annual conference this year in the Albanian capital of Tirana to discuss fighting terrorism, the situation in the Western Balkans and the new U.S. strategy on Afghanistan.
The Zapad war games, being conducted this year mostly in Belarus, run until Wednesday and involve 5,500 Russian and 7,200 Belarusian troops, according to Russia.
Despite assurances from Moscow that “NATO is not considered as an enemy” and that “the exercise is not aimed at NATO,” Pavel said Russians have not been transparent about the exercises. He says the number of troops in the exercises — which the Russians say is about 12,700 — could actually be between 70,000 and 100,000.
“All together, what we see is a serious preparation for big war,” he said, adding, “We have to be sure that ... an unintended incident will not escalate into conflict.”
Belarusian forces participate in war games with Russian forces at an undisclosed location in Belarus.