Date: 11 September 2017

Zapad-17. Myth Number Two

Russian Defence Minister has rebuked his German counterpart Ursula von der Leyen for falsely claiming that more than 100,000 troops will participate in the upcoming Zapad-2017 military drills. According to Moscow, there will be only 12,700 soldiers. But such a claim constitutes another myth of Russian propaganda based on a formal trick that has been used by the Russian Armed Forces for many years.

© By Vitaly V. Kuzmin, via Wikimedia Commons

It is difficult to precise how many soldiers will be engaged in the drills. According to official data presented by Russia and Belarus, 12,700 troops will take part, of which 10,200 will be deployed on the territory of Belarus (7,200 Belarusian troops and 3,000 Russian ones) along with 680 units of military equipment. Officially, Moscow has mentioned 70 aircrafts and helicopters, about 250 tanks, 200 artillery units of all types (including barrel artillery, rocket missiles and mortars) and 10 naval vessels. In Belarus, 370 units of military equipment will be used, including 140 tanks, up to 150 units of artillery and rocket launchers and more than 40 aircrafts and helicopters.

In fact, Zapad-2017 comprises not only exercise planned for 14–20 September 2017 in nine military ranges in Belarus and Russia but it constitutes also a series of events such as numerous trainings, unannounced readiness tests, trooping as well as full-time tactical exercise held in other regions of Russia. Actually, the Zapad-2017 drills started in the spring when armed forces had tested their military units which were later supposed to be used in September, during the critical stage of the project. Before the start of the drills planned for 14 September, numerous actions engaging formations of all armies and services have been performed on proving grounds in Belarus and those of the Western Military District.

As it can be read on the official website of Russia’s Ministry of Defence, during the September drills almost all units of the Western Military District will be mobilised, especially in the oblasts of Kaliningrad, Leningrad, Pskov, Moscow, Bryansk and Voronezh. Moreover, the Baltic Fleet and the Northern Fleet will participate in the exercise. In parallel with Zapad-2017, an exercise of civil defence will be held; its aim will be to test the state’s (military and civilian elements) readiness to total war. In Russia, operational groups of power ministries will participate in the drills, namely those of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, FSB and the Ministry of Emergency Situations.

It is highly likely that many more troops will take part in the exercise planned for 14-20 September in nine proving grounds in Belarus and Russia than it has been officially stated before. They include all military personnel, as well as those of civilians and power structures, engaged not only in the exercise planned for 14-20 September in Belarus and Kaliningrad Oblast but also troops taking part in other military drills held in other parts of Russia at the same time. Those exercise has nothing to do with Zapad-2017, however, they are perfectly coordinated one with another. Such a claim was confirmed by Belarusian Defence Minister Lieutenant General Andrei Ravkov who admitted that “the territorial scope of the drills is quite vast as it extends from the Kola Peninsula in the arctic zone to the territory of Belarus”.

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