Russia’s military maneuvers concern NATO
They could be seen as ‘serious preparation for big war,’ general says
TIRANA, Albania — There’s reason to be concerned about the large-scale military maneuvers now being conducted by Russia and Belarus, a senior NATO official said Saturday, because they could be seen as “serious preparation for big war.”
Gen. Petr Pavel, head of NATO’s military committee, said in an interview that NATO was increasing efforts to re-establish military-tomilitary communications with Russia to avoid any “unintended consequences of potential incidents during the exercise.”
The defense chiefs of NATO member countries were holding their annual conference this year in the Albanian capital, Tirana, to discuss fighting terrorism, the situation in the Western Balkans and the new U.S. strategy on Afghanistan.
The Zapad 2017 military exercises, 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 facts of the exercises. He says the number of troops in the exercises could actually be between 70,000 and 100,000.
“Altogether, what we see is a serious preparation for big war,” he said. “When we only look at the exercise that is presented by Russia, there should be no worry. But when we look at it in the big picture, we have to be worried because Russia was not transparent.”
Two weeks ago Pavel met with the Russian military’s general staff chief, Gen. Valery Gerasimov.
The supreme allied commander for Europe, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, had a phone call with Gerasimov at the beginning of Zapad 2017. Pavel said it was “mainly focused on transparency and risk reduction and avoidance of unintended consequences of potential incidents.”
“We have high concentration of troops in the Baltics. We have a high concentration of troops in the Black Sea, and potential for an incident may be quite high because of a human mistake, because of a technology failure,” Pavel said. “We have to be sure that such an unintended incident will not escalate into conflict.”
Stability and security in the western Balkan countries was also discussed during the NATO conference. Pavel said trouble in the region could come from radicalism, organized crime, migration, economic problems or “malign influence from Russia.”
“We do not compete with Russia for the western Balkans,” he said. “We are primarily focused on the Balkans being stable and secure.”
”When we only look at the exercise that is presented by Russia, there should be no worry,” says NATO’s Gen. Petr Pavel. “But when we look at it in the big picture, we have to be worried because Russia was not transparent.”