The Zapad 2017 drills are scheduled to run until September 20 in Belarus as well as on the Baltic Sea, in western Russia, and in Russia’s Kaliningrad region, close to the Polish border and those of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Belarus has said the manoeuvres will be strictly defensive and “do not pose a threat to the European community, in particular to neighboring states.”
But that has not reassured countries in the region worried that Russia poses a threat.
NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg earlier this month called on Russia to “be fully transparent.”
“We have seen before that Russia has used big military exercises as a disguise or a precursor for aggressive military actions against their neighbours,” Stoltenberg said.
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko has warned — while speaking in the country’s parliament — that the drills show that Russia is “preparing for an offensive war of continental proportions” and planning “a new assault group … to strike Ukrainian territory.”
Poland’s Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz has said that, contrary to claims by Moscow, the Russian and Belarusian war games pose a “real danger” and that “nearly 100,000 soldiers have been mobilised for these exercises.”
According to official data, over 10,000 troops, including some 3,000 from Russia, and around 50 aircraft are to take part in the drills, which Poland neighbours to the east, but Polish observers have said there might be many more.