The quadrennial Russian large scale military Exercise Zapad kicked-off Friday, at a time of heightened tensions between that country and the West, independent online newspaper The Moscow Times reports.
Russia is joined by its close ally, Belarus, in the exercise which will see up to 200,000 personnel, over 750 armor and multiple launch rocket system pieces and close to 100 aircraft involved, The Moscow Times says.
Belarus is particularly in focus this year following deteriorating relations between it and the EU, and the West as a whole, beginning with the reelection of Alexander Lukashenko for a sixth term as president in August 2020 and culminating in the ongoing migratory pressure on Belarus' borders with Poland, Latvia and Lithuania – a development described by Estonia's leadership as a form of hybrid warfare.
Poland's prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, described Zapad 2021 as the largest military exercise to take place in the past 40 years, The Moscow Times reports.
By comparison, the largest NATO exercise for decades, 2018's Trident Juncture, involved around 40,000 personnel.
NATO observers have not been invited to the exercise this year, while the alliance's spokesperson, Oana Lungescu, said it was key that the authorities and militaries of both Russia and Belarus behave in a responsible manner.
Under a 2011 Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Vienna Document, exercises involving over 13,000 troops require the presence of external observers, Lungescu said.
The Kremlin says that fewer than 6,400 troops will be organized under a single operational command which, it says, is in line with the Vienna Document's requirements.
Russia and Belarus are both OSCE members.
Some experts are expecting a cyber warfare dimension to Zapad, which may include the jamming of GPS signals in neighboring states.
Russian may also leave behind some of its military personnel in Belarus once the exercise finishes, some analysts say, while both Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin have spoken of deepening ties between the two countries.
Russian defense ministry footage showed warships and tanks firing salvos, along with military jets flying in formation.
The Moscow Times piece is here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte