Zapad-2021: Aggressive Exercises Against The West
In the period from 10 to 16 September this year, the armed forces of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus will conduct joint strategic maneuvers Zapad-2021 (West-2021).
The distinguishing feature of these military exercises is the change of the previous name of “strategic command and staff exercises” to “joint strategic exercises”, which emphasizes their focus primarily on the practical use of military power.
The name “joint strategic exercises” indicates the Western direction of the use of such force. First of all, the exercises pose a direct military threat to Polish, Ukraine, Eastern European and Baltic states, as well as other NATO countries.
Even before the start of the active phase of the exercises, there are signs that the Russian Federation is conducting an extensive information campaign in the media of various European countries in order to create a positive image of the Zapad-2021 exercises, which will allegedly be defensive in nature.
At the same time, even a simple analysis allows you to draw some conclusions about the course, intention and purpose of the military maneuvers that will be conducted by the troops of Russia and Belarus. Russia hides the nature and purpose of the exercises
In the context of the demonstrative statements by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his Belarusian counterpart Viktar Chrenin and Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus Viktor Hulevich on the “defensive” nature of the exercises, as well as the “growing threat from NATO and the US near the Russian borders”, it becomes clear that in fact the exercises are offensive in nature.
This is evidenced by the transfer of the best (elite) units of the Russian Western Military District to the borders with Ukraine and Poland (1. Panzer Army, 6th and 20th General Military Armies, 7th and 76th Assault Divisions, Baltic Fleet and Northern Fleet Forces, 6. Army of the Air Force and Air Defense, created in 2019 34. Mixed Air Division of the Baltic Fleet, other military formations), as well as the accumulation of logistical resources, ammunition, weapons and military equipment on the western borders of Belarus and the Russian Federation.
The exercise plan provides for repelling armed aggression against Belarus with the transition to a large-scale offensive operation involving all types of troops.
During the exercises, it is planned to massively use aviation, electronic warfare forces, joint landing and assault groups in urban areas, firing from the modernized Iskander-M tactical missile system (with the 9M728 missile with a range of up to 500 km), testing of new and modernized weapon designs and military equipment, taking into account the combat experience of Russian forces gained in Ukraine, Syria, African countries (in particular Tierminator combat vehicles).
The aggressive nature and importance of the intentions of the Russian Federation is confirmed by the statement of the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on the deployment of more than 20 new unions and units in the Western Military District by the end of 2021. In addition, the arsenals of the district will be enriched by more than 2,000 units of modern combat equipment.
Moreover, Russia secretly gathers soldiers, weapons and military equipment in the temporarily occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. These activities are regularly recorded by observers of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.
Given the involvement of significant forces of the Russian Northern Fleet, one of the tasks of the Zapad-2021 maneuvers will be the practical development of measures aimed at effectively resolving contentious issues in the Arctic region using military force.
Zapad-2021: disinformation of russians
Contrary to the statements of the Russian Ministry of Defence on the transparency of the West-2021 exercises, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation are deploying units at the western border of Russia in a way that is hidden from public opinion. Anyway, this was admitted by the commander of the Western Military District, General Aleksandr Zhuravlov, in an interview for the newspaper “Krasnaya Zvezda”, published on June 11, 2021.
On 26 July this year, the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation announced that the exercises will take place on 10 training grounds of the Western Military District, as well as on the territory of the Republic of Belarus. At that time, the ministry announced that 4.5 thousand soldiers and up to 650 units of military equipment will take part in the Zapad-2021 maneuvers. In turn, a day later, on July 27, the ministry announced that the exercises will be conducted on 12 training grounds and that 8,000 soldiers and up to 1500 units of equipment will take part in them.
Shortly afterwards, on 5 August this year, the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus announced that more than 12,800 Belarusian soldiers and 50 soldiers from Kazakhstan would take part in the exercises.
So it is not known how many soldiers will take part in the Zapad-2021 exercises. But taking into account the troops of the Russian Federation gathered at the border with Ukraine, troops stationed in the occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions and in Crimea, it can be assumed that in fact up to 10 times more soldiers will participate in the maneuvers than their declared number. By concealing the actual size of the exercises, the Russian Federation is primarily aimed at preventing OSCE observers from participating fully in the exercises. It should be noted that this contradicts the provisions of the 2011 OSCE Vienna Declaration on building mutual trust and security between the signatories.
Russia expands its military and political influence
On 28 July this year, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu issued an invitation to train military units and observers of the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, using terms such as “block ideology” and “east-west confrontation”. This is a blatant attempt to refooo the countries belonging to the SCO towards a confrontation with NATO and the USA.
The term “joint strategic training” in the context of the Zapad-2021 maneuvers Is most likely used by Russia to increase the number of its military facilities and installations in Belarus, create new military bases, as well as deploy air defense, electronic warfare and other systems near NATO’s eastern border.
For Belarus, active participation in the Zapad-2021 exercises will mean further drawing the country into confrontation with the West, as well as provoking a confrontation on the borders with Ukraine and Poland. There are already signs of Belarus transforming into a hybrid quasi-state, a tool of Russian hybrid aggression against Poland, the Baltic states and Ukraine. Besides, Belarus has already been used in a hybrid attack using “refugees” on the border with Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
Based on information from open sources, it can be concluded that the goals of this year’s Zapad-2021 maneuvers will be:
the tightening of relations, already strained, between Russia and Belarus and NATO; to expose the offensive capabilities of the troops of the Western Military District of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and the operational subordination to them of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus,
practicing the secretive dislocation of military units, while imitating full transparency, practicing disinformation activities (e.g. regarding the planned scope and nature of the exercises), an attempt to involve the countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the confrontation with NATO and the USA,
to stress the growing political importance of the Russian Federation in the region.
It can be said that Russia’s actions pose systemic threats to the security of Ukraine, the Polish and the Baltic states, and that they are a continuation of the strategy of intimidation and demonstration of military force in order to exert pressure on neighboring countries and those that have their interests in the Arctic.
For the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the involvement of their military units in these exercises may lead to complications in relations with NATO and US countries, and a loss of support from them in the context of dangerous tendencies in the development of the military-political situation in Afghanistan and Central Asia as a whole.
For European countries, the demonstration of the Russian Federation’s military capabilities will be a ‘test of nerves’ and another stage in the escalation of tensions against the background of Russia’s exacerbation of relations with NATO, resulting m.in from the entry into force of a new package of economic sanctions imposed on Russia, the finalisation of the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline or Moscow’s constant pressure on Ukraine.
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