Date: 21 September 2017
Zapad-2017: Too Early to Assess
The Zapad-2017 military drills, which took place on nine proving grounds of Belarus and Russia and engaged 12.700 troops, officially ended on September 20, as previously planned. However, it does not mean that this massive test of Russia’s combat readiness in the West came to the end. According to some experts, if Russia had sought to use the maneuvers to achieve some of its aggressive military plans, it would be a perfect moment to do it right now.
Russia started to withdraw its troops from Belarus once the drills had finished. For example, the army started to load its heavy equipment, including tanks, on railway carriages on the evening of September 20. However, this does not mean that all units and, more importantly, military equipment transported to Belarus before September 14 will return to their original places of dislocation. It needs to added that Russia took some offensive actions against its neighbours, namely Georgia (in 2008) and Ukraine (in 2014), after its military maneuvers, taking advantage of its considerable military units in a full combat readiness relocated in some strategical regions.
According to our analyses published before and during the Zapad-2017 exercise, the operation comparable to those conducted in Ukraine and Georgia is extremely unlikely to happen. The military units, which have been mobilised, concentrated in one place and moved on the occasion of the recent maneuvers, could be possibly used to provoke opponents and to exert pressure. Another issue is logistics and systems prepared for the purposes of the drills since they may be permanently implemented also in Belarus with the aim of improving the activities of Russian troops in the case of a conflict.
Also a number of participants seems to arouse controversy. According to Moscow and Minsk, 12,700 soldiers took part in the maneuvers. Nonetheless, it is known (and what has been confirmed by the Warsaw Institute’s forecast) that the actual scale of the maneuvers was much greater and it did not involve only the actions on the Zapad-2017 proving grounds. The increased activity of the Russian soldiers in the entire Western Military District could have been observed on the examples of some incidents reported between September 14 – 20 outside the officially declared exercise area. On September 14, a Tu-22M3 bomber rolled off the runway in a military airfield in Kaluga Oblast. On September 16, a Yak-130 trainer aircraft fell off on a ground near the military airport in Voronezh Oblast. The crew managed to eject. However, it is not the only unfortunate event that happened to the Russians. In a footage published online on September 19, one can distinguish the Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopter carrying out a rocket attack on the Luga proving ground in Leningrad Oblast. The missile hit some military vehicles parked next to the training field. According to some unofficial information, several people were injured. Also on September 19, it was revealed that the commander of Russian Airborne Troops Andrey Serdyukov had been seriously injured during an accident in Murmansk Oblast. Serdyukov was engaged in the Zapad-2017 maneuvers; previously, he had announced that three airborne divisions would participate in the drills.
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