For September 14-20, Russia and Belarus scheduled to conduct an extensive joint military exercise “ZAPAD 2017”. Both parties have agreed that this joint exercise will be held quadrenially, concurrently in Kaliningrad, Belarus and Russia.
Prospects of ZAPAD 2017 raise worrisome questions based on previous experiences of international observers, notably the intentionally manipulated number of troops involved in this exercise, scope of the exercise and unclear scenarios. Kremlin states that ZAPAD 2017 will have “defensive counter-terrorist” character. However, observations showed that similar exercises (ZAPAD 1999 and ZAPAD 2013) had clearly offensive character.
According to Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the US Army Europe commander, the major concern with ZAPAD 2017 exercise rests with possibility that it could be used as pretext to permanent deployment of Russian troops in Belarus. In the past, Russia used military exercises to cover up the invasion into neighbouring states (Georgia 2008 and Ukraine 2014).