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The exercise is over, the threat remains

Expert: “West 2017 – Russia has completed a cycle of preparation for a full-scale war against Ukraine. The question is whether it will make use of this experience”
21 September, 2017 - 11:05
Sketch by Viktor BOGORAD

Russia has been keeping its western neighbors in tension for a week now. The “Union State,” i.e. Russia and Belarus, is holding West 2017, the largest ever war game. It was officially announced that the exercise would take place on September 14 to 20 at nine proving grounds in Belarus and Russia and involve 7,200 Belarusian and about 5,500 Russian servicemen, 70 aircraft, and 680 pieces of military hardware. But the real picture is totally different, which the official representatives of Ukraine, Poland, the Baltic countries, and NATO pointed out from the very beginning. Here are some of the freshest reports.

“As of September 19, 2017, the real number of the participants of all the events held as part of West 2017 was an estimated 120,000 personnel, over 10,000 pieces of combat equipment, about 100 aircraft, and about 40 surface ships and submarines of various classes,” Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov says (rnbo.gov.ua).

As this issue was going to press, we heard an announcement from Belarusian President Aliaksandr Lukashenka: “The joint Russian-Belarusian exercise West 2017 has finished today [September 20. – Ed.].” But just on the eve of it, Poland’s Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz had cast doubt on this: “West 2017 is not only the biggest, but also the most aggressive and multifunctional Russian war game in the past 30 years. I would like to note that these maneuvers will not end on September 20 but will continue with the use of nuclear weapons, which was not included in the original exercise program” (tvp.info).

“Similarly to Ukraine, Russia is planning military steps against Belarus if the political situation changes there. The Russian armed and security forces are preparing to intervene, if necessary, and conduct a military operation in Belarus. The operation began to be planned in 2014. The objective of West 2017 is to paralyze the Belarusian military’s ability to act independently,” says Riho Terras, Commander of the Estonian Defense Forces (rus.err.ee).

Not to hear the truth about them and to ostensibly show a protest, the Russian delegation to the UN General Assembly, now underway in New York, walked out before the speech of Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite. “Today, the world is focusing its attention on North Korea and other regions, but the same methods of blackmail and aggression are being applied to Ukraine and along NATO’s eastern border. About 100,000 Russian servicemen are taking part in the offensive exercise West 2017 on the borders of the Baltic states and Poland, and even in the Arctic. Holding this exercise, Russia is rehearsing aggressive scenarios against the neighboring states, training its army to attack,” Ms. Grybauskaite pointed out.

If the Russian leadership were taking the same ardent approach to other problems in their country, for example, in the infrastructural or social spheres, then, taking into account its natural resources, it would be a totally different country now in terms of the living standards. But Moscow’s historical and political tradition dictates an entirely different behavior which the current Russian leadership does not wish to change. Figuratively speaking, “we are barefooted and hungry but with weapons and clout in the world.” For this very reason, in spite of the existing economic and financial problems, Russia is still investing fantastic amounts in the army, holding, in particular, large-scale war games. This is the reality we are facing – we are in direct contact with an aggressor, and we are to respond to and resist this aggressor. Of course, we will never defeat Russia headlong and, therefore, we should use other possibilities and methods – we must be more skillful, smarter, and more developed. To begin with, we must know about the aggressor. For example, what exactly is Russia focusing on during this large-scale war game?

“If we take general, not situational, lessons, we can say for sure that West 2017 is, above all, aimed at mastering such a complicated thing as a mobile transfer of forces,” Valentyn Badrak, director of the Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies, comments to The Day. “It is the most important element for Russia today. Russia is presenting this element as its most influential trump card.”

By Ivan KAPSAMUN, Valentyn TORBA, The Day