The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY BILL GERTZ

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.

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