NERVOUS over the Russo-Belarus joint military exercise, “Zapad-2017” which just started, neighbouring countries seem much perturbed. The theme of the exercise is uprising in Belarus by fifth columnists, followed by series of attacks by terrorists and backed by a fictitious country called Veishnoria. Russian forces are deployed to Belarus to help crush the rebellion. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has stepped up security on Ukraine’s borders while NATO troops deployed in Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which border on Belarus and Russia have been ordered to be watchful of any provocation and in case of air violation, disengagement measures by already deployed NATO-air-policing mission that guards the Baltic republics. Polish Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz has termed the exercise as “a threat to Poland”. Interestingly, invitations to 80 observers from Western and former Warsaw nations, including NATO, OSCE as well as all the diplomats serving in Belarus have been extended to watch the exercise but still alarm bells are being sounded that the exercise is threat to existence of neighbouring countries.
If we recall, last month, at Novo Selo Training Range in Bulgaria, some 11,000 (over-projected 25,000) troops including former Warsaw Pact countries, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria participated in a 10-day military exercise with a theme how to restart Cold War. The exercise code named “Saber Guardian”, met some of the military objectives and there was a happy ending too, when troops departed to the respective countries. It would not be an over exaggeration that the exercise was repetition of decade’s old exercise of bi-polar world during the pre-Soviet Union’s disintegration. “Old Exercise papers were reprinted in a new format”, claimed one of the participating commanders. Some troops dubbed the exercise as mission-less as it seems to be a failed attempt to restore American lost image in world affairs. There was much confusion as the American commanders, who projected the exercise as preparation to fight terrorists in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, while European senior Army commanders and their troops believed it was an updated rehearsal of tactics and strategies once used to counter Soviet troops, using armour and artillery leading to aerial assaults by hundreds of paratroopers to occupy target country.
Back at the Pentagon, US Commanders have successfully convinced President Donald Trump for a promise of additional deployment troops to the overseas and budgetary raise in military allocations. However, President Trump may not act as he seems agreed in his speeches. Pentagon has cleverly forecast the danger from Russian, Chinese and even North Korea’s recent maneuvers. President Trump was also briefed about the Russian exercises, “Zapad” which has been anticipated by Western intelligence agencies that 100,000 troops would participate. It is being claimed that these exercises are Russia’s contingency plans for a major conflict with NATO and allies. The recent speech of President Donald Trump regarding US foreign policy in Afghanistan and South Asia is linked to over projections of many such fears and apprehensions,
The “Zapad” exercise, jointly organized by Russia and Belarus have already started, from 14 to 20 September 2017, in which T-14 Armata tanks and advanced air defense and electronic warfare equipment would be used for the first time. It is being claimed that T-14 Armata tanks would be used in the bridge formation attack (Kaliningrad to Lithuania). Interestingly, Moscow has informed NATO that the maneuvers would involve around 13,000 troops but NATO is adamant to confirm the figure of 100,000 troops. The exercise which would be monitored by foreign observers has caused alarms as “Zapad” means West. Although, Russian’s expansionist apprehensions have been neutralized by Belarusian Defence Minister Andrei Ravkov, who confirmed that the joint military exercise will be defensive by nature but Western nations have been warned by US commanders that the “Zapad exercise” is a rehearsal to invade Ukraine and many European countries with an aim to share a common border with between Europe and Russia. However, as per the disclosure by Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister, Lt. Gen. Alexander Fomin, the drills will involve 5,500 Russian and 7,200 Belarusian troops, about 70 aircraft, 250 tanks and 200 artillery systems and 10 navy ships.
Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, Commanding General of the U.S. Army in Europe, describes Zapad-2017 as a ‘Trojan horse’ for Eastern Europe. Russia might also keep its military equipment without troops in Belarus, for a possible future military attack against neighbours as Poland or the Baltic states. Interestingly, out of the fears US Defence Intelligence had long ago forecast that the exercise is preparation for the invasion of Germany and the deployment of nuclear strikes against the West. The eyes of Western agencies are all set on Russia that how much of the war arsenal Moscow would dump in Belarus.
The anticipated date of 30th September has been set by the US spying satellites to account what Russia brought inside Belarus has actually have been taken back or remains deployed. The fact cannot be denied that Washington has increased diplomatic pressure and other tactics including use of good offices of Ukraine to convince Belarus to part from Russia and join Western pole. One wonders that despite permission to some 80 Observers and all the foreign diplomats to observe the “Zapad” exercise, why a routine exercise is being projected so negatively.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.