September 13, 2017

A LITTLE PIECE OF POLAND, A LITTLE PIECE OF FRANCE… Wary NATO Eyes Turn to Moscow’s ‘Zapad 17’ in Belarus.

General Philip Breedlove: Zapad is not new. It’s a recurring exercise that Russia typically does in its central and western districts.

This year is a little different in that it is going to be accomplished largely in Belarus, and a large [Russian] force will move into Belarus. I have no personal sources other than repeating the things I have heard from Belarusians and from others in the eastern NATO nations that this exercise can be between 70 to 100,000 troops – that is a large number. As I said, it’s probably not all in one location, but it will be a grouping of exercises in the west that would come to some numbers like that. There also have been numbers used that say there are over 4,000 railcars being ordered for this year’s exercise.

So there is some chance that this year’s exercise will be much larger than others in the past.

TCB: There’s been reporting in American media that the railcars and the troops in Belarus could be used as a kind of Trojan horse to leave equipment and people in Belarus – potentially in preparation for some kind of attack. What are the similarities and differences that can be drawn from past experiences with Russia when they’ve done something similar – like before the invasions of Georgia and Crimea?

Breedlove: This is exactly what has been talked about. And some even point back to the late 1930s and how Russia comported itself there before World War II. So this is a concern.

Now Zapad is not a snap exercise; it is an announced exercise. But snap exercises, and especially large snap exercises, in the recent past have been used to cover movements of troops, movements of equipment, set preparations for things like Crimea and the Donbas. So many share concern that this might happen. I don’t personally use the Trojan horse analogy – but what I have heard is that there’s great concern in several areas about the fact that a lot of force may come forward and it may not all go home.

NATO hasn’t held an exercise comparable to Zapad since the end of the Cold War, and the new NATO nations on Russia’s western flank have never been included in one.