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Estonian observer: We were shown action of defensive nature at Zapad

Russian attack helicopters in action during the Zapad 2017 exercise.
Russian attack helicopters in action during the Zapad 2017 exercise. Source: (Sergei Gapon/AFP/Scanpix)

Representatives of seven countries invited to observe Zapad, the large-scale joint Russia-Belarus military exercise, in Belarus under the Vienna document were shown action of defensive nature, and the number of personnel that they saw was smaller than the declared maximum numbers, Lt. Col. Kaupo Kiis, an Estonian observer who was present at the exercise, said.

"What we saw was basically of defensive nature by all means," Kiis told BNS on Wednesday. He said that the joint Russian-Belarusian exercise, just like the military exercises held in Estonia, began with an imitated invasion by an enemy, which was then halted and the enemy eventually driven out of the country.

On the first day, air force operations took place, followed by action by the ground forces on the second day and an air defense operation on the third day. On the last day, Wednesday, a large-scale operation took place that was also observed by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, foreign defense attachés and representatives of NATO, the UN, the Red Cross and the OSCE.

According to Kiis, the number of personnel seen by the observers was smaller than what Belarus had declared.

"We neveer saw the kind of number of people that was declared by the different sides," Kiis said. "There may have been more, because Belarus is big, but I'd guess that I didn't see 5,000 on various days combined."

Moscow and Minsk have said that 12,700 personnel were to take part in Zapad, including about 7,200 from Belarus and about 5,500 from Russia. Of Russian personnel, up to 3,000 were to take part in the exercise in Belarus. NATO representatives have questioned these numbers as too small.

Kiis pointed out that the exercise was held in two stages, th second of which was seen by the observers invited under the OSCE Vienna document. "We don't know what happened in the first stage, because Russian soldiers were awarded honors after the end of the first stage," he noted.

According to Kiis, the actions of offensive nature reported in international media may have taken place during the first stage, but as he did not see them, he could neither confirm nor deny it. "This is all that was shown to us — that we were told," he said. "I can speak about these things."

The active phase of the exercise lasted from Sept. 14 through 20.

"And one more thing — we could not speak to conscripts, despite our repeated requests, to ask their opinion," Kiis said. "We could speak though to senior officers of various ranks on both the Russian and the Belarusian side."

Kiis was an observer at Zapad in Belarus alongside officers from Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Sweden and Norway, each of which sent two observers to the exercise.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

Source: BNS

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