Russia is hoping to assuage concerns about their large scale military drills in Belarus slated to begin next month. The Zapad 2017 exercises, will see thousands of Russian troops conducting war games inside the allied nation of Belarus, prompting serious concerns from Ukraine, as well as NATO member states Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Russia used similar war games as a precursor to military efforts that led to the annexation of Crimea in 2014, as well as operations in Georgia. To make matters worse, Russia and Belarus have a history of lying about troops counts and the assets utilized in such drills, often underestimating the number of military personnel participating by tens of thousands, in an effort to dismiss allegations levied by NATO leaders.
Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, Commander of the U.S.’ European Command, explained why Zapad 2017 has him nervous in July, as American and other NATO nations worked to bolster their defensive capabilities in the region as the Russian drills approached.
“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,” Hodges said. According to the General, large-scale drills in Belarus offer the Russian military an excellent opportunity to move military hardware and equipment into the border nation, for use in an impending offensive, an idea that might sound paranoid had it not already proven effective in previous operations.