Tensions between Russia and the West are at an all-time high following the upcoming military war-games expected to take part in Belarus. The practice dates back to the 80s with the last being held in 2013. Dubbed The Zapad 2017, they will reportedly involve a maximum of 13,000 Russian soldiers, with 4,162 railway cars already acquired to transport military vehicles to Minsk, according to the New York Times. The sheer number of military personnel and artillery makes it the biggest military exercise ever undertaken by the country since the Cold War.
More worrying is the fact that this comes at a time when Russian – American relations are particularly bad, following U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent approval of sanctions against Russia. The move prompted retaliation from the Kremlin, with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin ordering 755 American government personnel out of the country.
The Zapad 2017 war games are viewed by some as an excuse by the Russians to get closer to NATO border countries, making it a potential act of aggression. Belarus President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, who is widely considered to be “the last dictator in Europe” has close ties to Moscow, but also tries to maintain a relationship with the West, a virtue that observers say may not work to his advantage if they decide to turn on each other.
This is considering that Belarus acts as a buffer zone between Russia and the west. Geographically, it is positioned between Russia and Ukraine on one side, and Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, which are NATO states. The arrival of the Russians has caused widespread fears that they may have the intentions of staying even after the event. There is also speculation that Putin may use Minsk to test the West’s resolve to protect NATO allied countries.
The suspicions stem from Russia’s lack of transparency. Apparently, the 13,000 soldiers figure is the maximum allowed before international observers are called in to examine the situation on the ground. However, according to Keir Giles of the UK based Chatham House think tank, the Kremlin can easily bypass this by carrying out numerous simultaneous drills. This is as reported by NBC News.
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