RUSSIAN EXERCISES EYED
As political Washington remains focused on conspiracy theories related to the Trump administration’s ties to Moscow, U.S. intelligence agencies are closely monitoring Russian military forces preparing for upcoming war games.
The war games set for this September called Zapad 2017 (“West 2017”) are especially rattling nerves in Eastern Europe, where allies fear the exercises could be used as a pretext for the next phase of Russian military aggression.
Zapad exercises have been held annually since the 1970s and have included tests of both advanced conventional and new strategic nuclear weapons. Troop levels have reached 150,000.
The exercises are showcases for Western intelligence services to gauge growing Russian military capabilities. In recent years, the exercises have involved the use of both cyber warfare operations as well as information warfare operations — influence and political operations.
U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports say the upcoming Zapad war games will take place in Belarus and western Russia — including Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania where Moscow recently deployed nuclear-capable Iskander short-range missiles.
The pending exercises also come amid European jitters following President Trump’s visit to Europe last week. During the trip, he scolded NATO allies for not paying more toward their own defense. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the visit that Europe must do more for its own defenses.
The administration is requesting an increase in funding this year for the European Reassurance Initiative of $4.8 billion for troops, equipment and exercises aimed to strengthen deterrence against a Russian attack.
Polish Col. Tomasz K. Kowalik, with the Polish Defense Ministry, and Dominik P. Jankowski, with Poland’s Foreign Ministry, recently stated that Russian has ordered over 4,000 rail cars to move troops for Zapad.
“Based on this data, it is not difficult to calculate that the planned train wagons could deploy up to two Russian armored/mechanized divisions (around 30,000 military personnel) to Belarusian territory,” they wrote recently in the National Interest.
The two Polish officials then warned that with the missiles and troops already in Kaliningrad, “Russia, if it so decides, can — at a minimum — easily exert significant pressure on its neighbors
with little or no warning.”
Moscow may be preparing for a new military drive against the West, they added.
“Having created such a military build-up under the pretext of such exercise, Russia could launch a limited or provocative military hybrid operation to see what happens and further test the waters on NATO’s eastern flank, or in Ukraine, where the Russo-Ukrainian conflict remains in full swing,” Col. Kowalik and Mr. Jankowski wrote.