The Zapad military exercises conducted by Russian and Belarusian militaries over the past week have drawn a great deal of attention from world leaders, and with good reason. The last time Russia participated in these large-scale drills, intelligence satellites flying overhead revealed that Russia had understated the size of their military presence in the region by a factor of about nine. The drills that were supposed to include a total of 12,700 or so troops, soon swelled to over 90,000, and only months later, the equipment left behind, as well as the training that took place at Zapad were put into action in the military annexation of Crimea in 2014.
This year, Russia again announced a paltry investment of troops, amounting to no more than 13,000 according to officials that did not want to permit NATO observers to participate in the training cycles as would be mandated by a Cold War era agreement Russia signed, despite violating it in 2013. NATO leaders, reading between the lines, anticipated a similar showing of Russian force to that of Zapad ‘13, expecting as many as 100,000 troops to take part in the event.
Numbers have not yet surfaced as to how many Russian and Belarusian soldiers participated in the exercises, though Russia has been marketing its military might heavily on social media platforms in both official and non-official ways.
One bit of footage Russia would have rather not shown to the public, was of a KA-52 helicopter firing on a crowd of spectators the pilot believed to be a training target.
Ruptly TV, which purports to be a video news agency out of Berlin, Germany, despite its parent company, Russia Today, being owned by the Kremlin which is now officially recognized as a mouth piece for the Russian government, has been sharing more flattering footage of Russian forces participating in the drills, such as this one of Russian paratroopers, as well as BMD-4M vehicles being dropped before conducting live fire operations in a mock village. It is unclear as to whether or not Russian troops made the drop inside their BMD-4M vehicles, as Russia has reportedly begun doing.
The Zapad drills are now concluded, with NATO troops in the Baltics breathing a sigh of relief as some were concerned that the massive drills were actually a precursor to an invasion. Unlikely as that may have been, NATO officials will now be keeping a close eye on how many troops truly do depart, and how much of their equipment they take with them, as the larger concern regarding the Zapad drills wasn’t that it would spark a large-scale war, but rather that elements of it could go on to support smaller conflicts, like the ongoing fighting in Ukraine.
Image courtesy of the Kremlin