Zapad 2017: The Russians Are Coming!
Russia Prepares for Biggest Military Exercise Since WWII
Every two years, the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation conducts Zapad, a joint military exercise. With heightened tensions in Eastern Europe following the ongoing situation in Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea, this year’s Zapad has already excited interest and concern in Western Europe.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said that NATO will be monitoring Zapad very closely. As part of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence, the British Army has deployed units in Eastern Europe under codename Operation CABRIT.
Zapad 2017 in Detail
Deputy Defence Minister Lieutenant General Alexander Fomin held a briefing on the Zapad 2017 joint exercise on 31 August, Warfare.Today quotes it in full:
The Zapad joint strategic exercise is taking place on September 14-20 under Chiefs of General Staffs of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus.
This exercise is a final stage of joint training of the Russian and Belarusian Armed Forces. It is held every two years according to decisions of heads of the countries.
Even before the start of the Zapad 2017 exercise, it has become a subject to scrutiny of foreign colleagues and media despite its scheduled nature.
Within last several months, largest media agencies and subsequently politicians have been keeping pressure on public opinion amplifying unsubstantiated allegations about ‘Russian threat’. Most fabulous scenarios are assumed. Some of them are saying that a ‘bridgehead for intervention’ and ‘invasion’ of Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine is being planned during the exercise.
Not a single of these paradoxical version has anything in common with reality. This was confirmed by officials of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus.
Moreover, objective information about preparation for the exercise was published on websites of military agencies of two countries as well as spread by Russian and Belarusian media.
Organization of combat and operational training as well as troops’ control of the Russian Armed Forces has suffered changings in recent years. Effectiveness of these changings can been seen only in practice.
Practical stage of preparation for the exercise was launched in March, when Moscow had hosted strategic command post training of central military control bodies of the Russian Armed Forces. After that, the Joint Command of the regional force grouping held command post in Minsk as well as command post training of the Western military district took place in Saint Petersburg.
In May and July, chiefs of staffs of the leadership conducted reconnaissance of the exercise locations.
Command post exercise on control of aviation and air defence troops involving operational group of the Belarusian Armed Forces took place at the Western strategic direction in July.
In August, command post training and several exercises on all types of support of joint actions took place in the Western military district.
The Zapad 2017 exercise is held at ranges located in the Republic of Belarus as well as in the Kaliningrad, Leningrad, and Pskov regions on September 14-20.
Preliminary notification about military activity during the exercise as well as invitation for participation in the exercise as an observer was sent to all OSCE member-states on August 1.
The exercise is aimed at practice of preparation and operation of a forces grouping in the interests of providing military security to the Union State.
Interoperability of staffs of different levels as well as interfacing of prospective troops and armament control systems will be improved. Provisions of new regulations developed in the Russian and Belarusian Armed Forces will be tested.
Commanders and staffs will improve their skills in planning of military activities aimed at situation stabilization and troops’ control.
The exercise is divided into two parts: first will last for three days, second – for four days.
In course of the first stage, the Regional force grouping Joint Command of the Russian and Belarusian Armed Forces is to finish preparation for combat operation of the troops in order to isolate action circuits of illegal armed groups and sabotage-reconnaissance groups of conditional enemy; to build up Air Force and air defence grouping in order to cover important state and military facilities; to practice organizing cooperation and support of implementation of the assigned tasks.
In course of the second stage, issues of troops’ control during military actions aimed at repelling an aggression against the Union State as well as organization and all-round support in conditions of fast-changing situation will be practised.
The exercise stipulates that some extremist groups have penetrated to the territories of the Republic of Belarus and the Kaliningrad region of the Russian Federation in order to carry out terrorist attacks and destabilize the Union State of Russia and Belarus. The conditional extremists are supported from outside by receiving logistics assistance and military hardware by air- and sealift.
To defeat the conditional terrorists in a simulated situation the troops are to go through a number of tactical episodes:
deployment of military units of the regional grouping forces in the rebel groups areas to isolate them;
Airborne and air defence operations to support the ground forces and block air supply lines of illegal armed groups;
special operation to eliminate illegal armed groups and stabilize the situation;
naval blockade of the special operation area, and measures to cut off escape routes by the Baltic Fleet forces.
At the same time in the Western MD a number of anti-terror tactical exercises are to take place involving MIA, Rosguard, FSB and EMERCOM units.
Following ranges will be involved in the exercise in the Republic of Belarus: Lepelsky, Borisovsky, Losvido, Osipobichsky, two Air Force and AD ranges (Ruzhansky and Domanovo) and a section of Dretun area.
In the Russian Federation the troops engaged will train at the following ranges: Luzhsky, Strugi Krasnye and Pravdinsky.
About 12.7 thousand troops (including 7.2 thousand of Belarusian troops, about 5.5 thousand of Russian troops and 3 thousand of them – on the territory of Belarus), about 70 aircraft and helicopters, up to 680 pieces of military hardware including about 250 tanks, up to 200 guns, MLRSs and mortars as well as 10 warships are planned to be involved in the exercise.
Thus the total strength of the troops, tanks, combat armored vehicles, artillery, mortars, MRLS engaged, number of planned sorties does not exceed level provided by the Vienna document of 2011.
Seeking maximum transparency, the leadership of the foreign defence departments, and representatives of military diplomatic corps were invited to visit the final stage of the Zapad 2017 joint strategic exercise at the Luzhsky range (St. Petersburg region).
Military attaches were also invited to visit this event on September 18, 2017. It is planned to have a briefing devoted to Zapad 2017 goals and joint strategic exercise procedures as well as to observe the troops practical activities.
The Russian and Belarusian military authorities involved in the exercise will include representatives of the General Staffs of the both countries, control authorities of the Western MD, Russian military transport aviation, and Belarusian Air Forces and Air Defence Commands
Besides, the Russian part will detach operational groups of MIA, Rosguard, FSB and EMERCOM to plan the joint actions.
It is to be reminded that the Zapad 2017 anti-terror exercise is a purely defensive one.
Despite the fact that main part of the exercise is carried out on the territory of the Republic of Belarus, the exercise scenario is a simulated one, and does not provide any ties to a particular region. According to the assessments it can break out in any place of the world.
Source: Deputy Defence Minister Briefing
Image: Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation, Zapad 2017.