The United States and its NATO allies have continually ramped up the military presence along Europe’s Eastern Flank since Russia’s military annexation of Crimea in 2014. Now, with large-scale Russian military exercises expected to commence in September near the region, defense officials are beginning to voice their concerns about parallels between the planned drills, and those Russia conducted prior to taking Crimea.
“People are worried, this is a Trojan horse. They say, ‘We’re just doing an exercise,’ and then all of a sudden they’ve moved all these people and capabilities somewhere,” U.S. Army Lieutenant General Ben Hodges said. His primary concern is that the exercises, named Zapad-2017, could allot Russia the perfect opportunity to relocate military equipment and assets to Belarus, where they could be left for a future incursion.
Hodges was quick to point out, however, that there have been no indications to suggest that Russia is planning any such invasion. Moscow has issued a number of statements intended to reassure NATO officials that their exercises will adhere to international limits on size, but that hasn’t stopped a number of NATO leaders of worrying the exercises are nothing more than a clever way to position themselves for future military action.
“This artificial buffoonery over the routine Zapad-2017 exercises is aimed at justifying the sharp intensification of the NATO bloc (activities) along the perimeter of Russian territory,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told the Interfax news agency on Friday.