Russian Federation war games in Belarus spark anxiety in Baltics

Estonia to send observers to Zapad exercise

Much like Russia's broader military strategy, its goal during the Zapad drills is to project more power than the Russian armed forces can actually muster.

Russia on Thursday began major joint military exercises with Belarus along the European Union's eastern flank, the biggest Russian war games since 2013. But some Western analysts say the number is more like 100,000 when you consider the other personnel involved.

But for Danish defence minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen, speaking on Danish radio on Thursday, the drill was created to "intimidate the Baltic states".

"We can't be totally calm. There is a large foreign army massed next to Lithuanian territory", Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis told Reuters recently.

Ukraine has already increased its security alert level out of fear that the exercise will be used as a Trojan horse for another Russian invasion.

The Kremlin firmly rejects any such plans.

All Russian military units have arrived to Belarus to take part in the West 2017 military exercise and are carrying out the set tasks, Belarusian Defense Ministry Spokesman Vladimir Makarov told a TASS reporter on Thursday.

In Crimea, Moscow proved a master of "hybrid warfare", with its mix of cyberattacks, disinformation campaigns, and use of Russian and local forces without insignia.

The US has assumed command of airspace over the Baltic countries as a precaution and Ukraine has put its armed forces on alert.


But NATO has deliberately taken a slow approach to its military build-up to avoid being sucked into a new arms race, even as Russian Federation has stationed anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles in Kaliningrad, the Black Sea and Syria.

"Its scenario shows Russia's intention to threaten and to intimidate", she said.

If, after Zapad-17, Moscow decides to force the issue by enlarging its military infrastructure in Belarus nonetheless, it would be the clearest indication since Putin's 2014 seizure of Crimea that he has made a decision to transform Belarus into a military outpost against the West. But a 40,000-strong force agreed in 2015 is still being developed, officials say.

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has also bolstered its presence in its easternmost member states that were dominated by Moscow during the Cold War and remain concerned about the Kremlin's intentions in the region.

NATO, however, believes - without evidence - that more troops will be involved.

"The security situation has taken a turn for the worse", Byden said. Sweden, such as the Baltic states, Poland and many Western countries, has been deeply concerned by Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea in the Black Sea in 2014 and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. "They say, 'We're just doing an exercise, ' and then all of a sudden they've moved all these people and capabilities somewhere".

Troops from non-NATO Finland will also attend along with NATO soldiers from Denmark, Norway, France, Estonia, Lithuania and the United States.

There is an information war going on for public opinion in NATO-member states too, with Western governments keen to bolster their case for increasing military spending to counter a resurgent Russian military.

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