Russia’s military keeps covering global news. After a stunning development yesterday where Russia’s Red Army sold S-400 antiaircraft missile systems to Turkey, a NATO member, today the forces of the former Soviet empire are building up troops at Europe’s borders at the worrying speed.
For this year’s military exercise program, known to Russian authorities as “Zapad 2017”, the Soviets have (officially) amassed 15,000 troops on the borders of Poland, Lithuania, and Belarus. From 14 to 20 September these soldiers will simulate what an attack on a NATO country would look like during an exercise Russia calls ‘War games’.
The government of Lithuania and Belarus find these numbers of troop rather worrying and have therefore asked NATO to send aircraft in order to get a good overview of exactly what the Russians are doing.
Given that the last of these exercises which are held only once every four years was followed by the annexation of the Crimea region in Ukraine, their reserve is understandable.
Security expert Otilia Dhand at Teneo Intelligence commented: "Since the last Zapad exercises in 2013, Russia has annexed Crimea and fomented unrest in eastern Ukraine, where the conflict is ongoing. The Baltic members of NATO are therefore especially concerned over the possibility that these exercises may involve incursions into their territorial waters and airspace, as well as provide cover for building up Russian forces at bases close to their borders,"
The Kremlin, Russia’s power center, did not directly comment on what the meaning of these troop movements are, but the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg did make a reference to them in a speech he gave in Estonia, calling them undesirable but also admitting that “this is something that is part of the Vienna document, an agreement regulating transparency and predictability relating to military exercises."
The most troublesome aspect is, however, the troop number. The official figure is 13,000 troops but a security expert, Mr. Igor Sutyagin, senior research fellow of Russian Studies at the Royal United Services Institute, said: "A forensic analysis of the data available about these exercises offers conclusive evidence that Russia is being economical with the truth. This analysis suggests the number of troops participating in the exercises will be closer to 65 to 70,000."
Putin is clearly sending a signal to European leaders. Whether they are listening is anyone’s guess at this point.