RUSSIA MONITOR

Date: 29 August 2017

Who’s Afraid of Zapad 2017

It is not Poland, neither the Baltic states nor Belarus. However, the Zapad 2017 military exercise can be a threat to Ukraine. Russian battalions’ presence in Belarus may mean that the North Front will be created and such a scenario has raised fears since the beginning of the war in Donbass. Additionally, the war conflict could be fostered by some tension in the Far East. According to the Kremlin, it is the issue of North Korean threat to the United States and its allies that is more important for Donald Trump.


© SERGEI ILNITSKY

Thanks to the Zapad 2017 military exercise, Russia may cover some activities aiming to develop its attack forces, claims Ukraine’s Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak. Of course, Ukraine would be main target of its neighbour. Poltorak insisted that Russians had relocated their aviation to Belarus prior to the scheduled date. Ukraine’s Defence Minister recalled the situation from 2008, when, after Caucasus 2008 military drills, most of Russian units had stayed in the region in order to attack Georgia.

Sooner or later it may appear than Ukraine will be completely encircled by Russian troops. In the light of such a situation, the military transfer operation of the best combat units (that have previously stationed in the databases in northwest Ukraine in a configuration that has remained unchanged since the beginning of the state’s independence) to the east and south will appear to be completely useless. Currently, there are Russian troops in the south, that is in Crimea and by the Black Sea, in the south east (in Donbass) as well as in the north east, namely by towns of Chernihiv and Sum in Belgorod Oblast, from where Kiev can be accessed quite easily, and in the south west (Transnistria). Only the northwest border of the country, that is the one with Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland, seems to be safe. With the arrival of Russian troops in Belarus, the potential Russian-Ukrainian war front is drastically extending. Due to such a situation, Ukraine’s strategic position is aggravated, especially if Russians, or even a small group of them, will not leave the country once military drills are finished. So far, Ukraine’s northern border has been perceived as a “soft underbelly” and it couldn’t be expected that Kiev would afford to provide financial support for so many troops stationed in all directions. Moscow will get one more option of possible attack and it will force Kiev to share its military potential. It is true that Alexander Lukashenko has assured many times that his country would never attack Ukraine. But what could he do if Russians took some unexpected decisions? Anyway, their presence is more than enough to draw attention of the part of the Ukrainian forces.

According to official statements, 13,500 Russian soldiers will participate in the military drills. However, the Lithuanian authorities claim that the actual number may exceed 100,000 troops. The Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine Oleksandr Turchynov went a step further and he estimated that 240,000 Russians will take part in Zapad 2017.

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