Russia's Zapad Military Drills Seek to Send a Message to the World

Ukraine Russia Preparing for Major War

Russian Federation and Belarus began major war games Thursday, an operation involving thousands of troops, tanks and aircraft on NATO's eastern edge practicing how to hunt down and destroy armed spies, among other maneuvers. A total of 10,200 military personnel will take part in the drills: 7,000 Belarusian troops and 3,000 Russian servicemen. Ben Hodges, who leads U.S. Army forces in Europe, told Reuters that "people are anxious this is a Trojan horse".

Some Western officials - including head of the US Army in Europe, General Ben Hodges - have raised concerns that Russia might use the drills as a "Trojan horse" to make incursions into Poland and Russian-speaking regions in the Baltics.

In Crimea, Moscow proved a master of "hybrid warfare", with its mix of cyberattacks, disinformation campaigns, and use of Russian and local forces without insignia.

"Its scenario shows Russia's intention to threaten and to intimidate", she said. Reportedly, this was a topic raised by Poroshenko during Alexander Lukashenko's visit to Ukraine, with the Belarusian president assuring his host that the territory of Belarus would never be used to pose a threat to Ukraine.

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The danger has increased "This is part of a pattern, which we've seen developed over several years with a more asserted Russian Federation, a Russia which has tripled defense spending over the last years, which is using force against neighbors and which is exercising much more modern capabilities in a more aggressive way", Stoltenberg said.

But Russia's defense ministry is also running concurrent exercises in other regions, including Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea. Non-NATO member Sweden has made a decision to strengthen its armed forces after spending has fallen to about 1 percent after it accounted for more than two percent of economic output in the early 1990s and began to reintroduce the compulsory recruitment system.

'It is all smoke and mirrors, ' the official said, adding that the Soviet-era Zapad exercises that were revived in 1999 had included simulated nuclear strikes on Europe. Russian forces are deployed to Belarus to help crush the rebellion. But a 40,000-strong force agreed in 2015 is still being developed, officials say.

NATO, however, believes - without evidence - that more troops will be involved.

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And despite assurances from Minsk and Moscow, leaders in Poland, the Baltic states, Slovakia, Romania, the Ukraine and Bulgaria are concerned Russian Federation might not pull back all of its soldiers after the drills.

They are there to emphasise Nato's determination to defend its allies - and Russia's closest Western neighbours.

Called Zapad 2017, the drill is meant to repel an attack by a fictional state, Veishnoriya, and two fictional allies, Lubeniya and Vesbasriya, that look a bit like North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and European Union states Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which now host around 3,000 North Atlantic Treaty Organisation troops as part of the alliance's Russian Federation deterrent force.

Poland has expressed fears the manoeuvres are practice for a future invasion, meant to expand the Russian Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad - located between Poland and Lithuania.

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