Russia is conducting its largest European military exercise since the cold war, involving land, sea and air units, and encompassing a huge area across western Russia, Belarus, the Baltic Sea and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
Officially the ‘Zapad’ (meaning ‘West’) drills include just under 13,000 troops, though there are claims from NATO that as many as 100,000 could take part.
This has NATO and some Eastern European nations concerned, as Russia has previously conducted military exercises prior to launching military action in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, and in Georgia.
The Warsaw Institute, a Polish think tank, has voiced concerns over the war games, and the number of troops involved.
“That is why Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine have been voicing concerns over last few months that the official figures of troops participating in Zapad-2017 are highly underestimated,” the Warsaw Institute said.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg criticised Russia for the lack of transparency over the military exercises.
“We see a more assertive Russia, which has implemented a significant military built-up over several years. Also with more and bigger exercises,” he said.
“NATO is closely monitoring Russia’s exercise Zapad. We are sending 3 experts to the exercise following invitations from Russia and Belarus, but these invitations fall short from the transparency required by the OSCE.”
He also re-affirmed NATO’s commitment to the safety of its Eastern European allies