Tag: Finland

As Russia threatens, Sweden ponders joining NATO

Vladimir Putin’s mock attacks on Scandinavia could make the Swedes end 200 years of neutrality

SWEDEN’S Aurora-17 drill, which continues until the end of September, is the biggest war game that the supposedly neutral country has carried out for 23 years. Not only does it involve 19,000 of Sweden’s armed forces (about half of them), including its Home Guard, but also more than 1,500 troops from Finland, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, France, Norway and America.

All except Finland are members of NATO, the big western alliance.

The size of the exercise and its main focus, the defence of Gotland, an island in the Baltic Sea some 350km (220 miles) from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, is a reflection of how insecure Sweden feels.

Vladimir Putin, having gobbled up Crimea and attacked Ukraine, is flexing his muscles near the Baltics and Scandinavia. Russia’s massive Zapad-17 military exercise, which finished this week, involved sending 100,000 troops to Belarus and the Baltic to practise repelling the “Western Coalition”.

Foreign observers were banned, as they never are from NATO exercises. (Perhaps luckily: a Russian helicopter reportedly fired missiles at spectators by mistake, though the government denies this.)

There have been plenty of other causes for disquiet. In March 2013 Russia sent two Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombers, escorted by four Sukhoi Su-27 jet fighters, across the Gulf of Finland to within 40km of Gotland.

Su-27UB , Su-27P and Tupolev Tu-22M3

The planes only veered off after carrying out what NATO analysts believed was a dummy nuclear attack on targets in Sweden. After many years of static or declining defence spending, Sweden had to rely on Danish F-16s, part of NATO’s Baltic air-policing operation, to respond.

In 2014 a Russian submarine penetrated the Stockholm archipelago, departing without being found. Since then Russia has stepped up the frequency of menacing, no-notice military drills in the region.

Small wonder many Swedes think they should end 200 years of neutrality by joining NATO. If they did, any Russian attack on Sweden would be treated as an attack on America and its 28 NATO allies.

All the main Swedish opposition parties want to join, apart from the ultra-nationalist Sweden Democrats, who like many European populists have a curious fondness for Mr Putin.

Polls suggest that a plurality of Swedes favour NATO membership. A Pew survey earlier this year found 47% in support of membership and 39% against.

But for now the Social Democratic-Green coalition government, in office since 2014, wants to get as close as possible to NATO without actually joining it.

Peter Hultqvist, Sweden’s defence minister, is the author of a policy that tries to square the contradictions in the country’s security policy.

Part of the “Hultqvist doctrine”, as it is known, is to improve Sweden’s neglected capacity for self-defence. Military spending is rising—by about 5% annually in real terms over the next three years—and conscription is being reintroduced next year.

Peter Hultqvist, Sweden’s defence minister

The other part is building closer defence co-operation with its non-NATO neighbour, Finland, as well as with America and Baltic littoral states in NATO. All of which Aurora-17 is meant to demonstrate.

Both Sweden and Finland also entered into a “host country support agreement” with NATO, which allows alliance forces to move through their territory and pre-position kit by invitation.

Mr Hultqvist himself is suspected of hankering after NATO membership. But for now the government has ruled it out. There is still a good deal of anti-Americanism on the Swedish left (which Donald Trump does little to dispel).

There is also a fear, expressed by the foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, of provoking Mr Putin (who has promised to “eliminate the threat” were Sweden to join NATO). Many observers doubt that Finland, where popular support for NATO is lower, would be ready to make a joint decision in favour of membership—something Swedish NATO boosters see as crucial.

There are good reasons why NATO itself might be keen for Sweden (and Finland) to join its fold. Defence of its Baltic members would be much harder without guaranteed access to Swedish ground and airspace. As a member, Sweden would be far more integrated with NATO’s command-and-control systems. Interoperability of its forces with those of the alliance would improve, making them more effective in a fight.

Sweden’s NATO question is being fudged for now, but it will loom large in next year’s general election. If the Swedes do eventually make the jump, Mr Putin will have only himself to blame.

This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline “A funny kind of neutrality”

 

Finland raises yearly allowance for Estonians who fought with Finnish forces to EUR 2,000

Finnish soldiers and Estonian volunteers pose next to a captured Soviet gun, August 1941.

TALLINN, Sep 19, BNS – The government of Finland has decided to raise the size of the annual allowance paid to Estonian volunteers who fought with the Finnish army in World War II to 2,000 euros from the present 590 euros.

The increase in the allowance for Estonian volunteers who fought with Finnish forces in 1941-1944 has been set out in Finland’s state budget, Iltalehti newspaper said. The paper said that Finnish veterans of war have been receiving that allowance since 2011.

Markku Seppa, managing director of the Union of Finnish Veterans of War, said that the increase in the allowance for Estonian volunteers demonstrates that the Finnish government is taking care also of the kindred-nation volunteers living abroad.

Seppa added that Estonian volunteers still alive numbered less than 50.

 

Zapad 2017: Will tensions between the West and Russia run high – What the experts say

By Andrej Matisak

Is the Russia-Belarus exercise Zapad 2017 is a reason for concern for NATO?

Russia-Belarus exercise Zapad 2017 started today. Experts are asked what the most important strategic objectives of the Russia-Belarus exercise Zapad 2017 are, especially from the Russian point of view and whether Zapad 2017 is a reason for concern for NATO.

Will tensions between the West and Russia run high during the exercise?

This is what they said:

Johan NorbergSenior Analyst at FOI (Swedish Defence Research Agency)

The main strategic objective is to train and if possible consolidate the capability to launch and wage high-intensity war fighting operations on the war-theatre level. I base this on an analysis of Russia’s strategic military exercises in 2011 – 2014 report and on (yet unpublished) work covering 2015 and 2016. The West should worry about Russia’s capability intentions, what type of wars they want to be able to fight, not that this exercise takes place in Western Russia and Belarus right now (it does once every 4 years).

Tensions are political. The military exercises are in my understanding primarily for building military capabilities. I do not expect the exercise as such to create more tension than there already is. Yes, there is a theoretical higher risk of incidents since there will probably be more reconnaissance aircraft and ships active than usual.

Michael KofmanResearch Scientist, CNA Corporation, Fellow, Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center

There are three elements to this exercise. First, Russia is testing its ability to command combined arms formations and the logistics involved in moving heavy ground forces into the Baltic region. Second it is a large civil-defense drill designed to test how the military and civilian authorities would behave at a time of total war, de facto mobilization of the state for a conflict with an existential threat. In that respect it tests the National Guard and other authorities in their response to internal instability, protests and the like. Finally the exercise is important in signaling to the United States that Russia has the capability and resolve to intervene in Belarus, defend its interests, and see NATO down in a potential fight. The scenario is defensive but some elements of Russian strategy are principally offensive since they involve compelling the adversary during a crisis or conflict.

Absolutely, any time a country conducts large scale military exercises it is a time for prudent vigilance and caution on the part of neighbours. This is especially so because Russia has a mixed history of having used some announced and unannounced exercises in the past to prepare for combat operations against another state, most notably Kavkaz-2008 and the snap readiness inspection in February 2014. Tensions do run high in the context of the wider confrontation between Russia and the West, but few truly expect this exercise to be a prelude to some nefarious plan, or risky adventure. Most of the reactions among NATO members have been calm, although there is always some unfortunate panic and media sensationalism that takes place during such events.

Paal HildeAssociate Professor, Centre for Norwegian and European Security, Institute for Defence Studies/Norwegian Defence University College

A major military exercise like Zapad 2017 generally has many objectives, ranging from narrow military aims to overtly political ones. What the most important strategic objectives of Zapad 2017 are from the Russian point of view is hard to determine with certainty. There are probably several such objectives and their relative significance will likely vary among different actors. From the military perspective, the exercise will be another occasion to test new concepts, including lessons learned in Ukraine and Syria. On the more political level, to show the Russian population, notably in Kaliningrad, as well as NATO that the Russian military is able to move quickly to defend the exclave may be another objective. Russia might also want to intimidate Belarus and other neighbours. More generally, military prowess has been a key tool in Putin’s attempt to re-establish Russia’s status as a “great power” in international affairs; including in Europe and the Middle East. Showing off military force, including in highly publicised exercises, is seemingly also useful for the Putin administration in domestic political mobilisation. The massive attention Zapad 2017 has gained in both Russian and international media is in itself a sign that such exercises are a highly useful political tool.

The speculations that Zapad 2017 might be a cover for plans to invade the Baltic states or Ukraine seem to be just that – speculations. Russian officials have obviously rejected such accusations and it is hard to see what Russia would want to achieve with such a military adventure. There is thus more reason for worry regarding situations where NATO and Russian military forces come close and where accidents or unplanned and unfortunate events spin out of control. Both sides are aware of this danger and will presumably seek to maintain safe distances and quickly deescalate if necessary. The most tangible and obvious concern from the point of view of NATO is of a political nature, however. Russia has claimed that only 12 700 personnel and a small number of military equipment will be involved in the exercise, bringing it below the threshold in the Vienna Document for inviting observers. Much suggests that the total military manpower and equipment that will be involved in the series of other exercises that run in parallel with the official Zapad 2017 will be vastly larger – perhaps up to 100 000. If this is the case, Zapad 2017 will represent a blatant Russian violation of the spirit if not the letter of the Vienna Document. It will thus represent yet another setback for arms control and confidence building in Europe.

Garret MartinProfessorial Lecturer, School of International Service, Editor at Large at the European Institute, American University

This is a bit of a speculation but we can assume that Zapad 2017 might serve the following interests/objectives for Russia. First, there is the declared aim of conducting an exercise against a simulated terrorist or asymmetric threat. But, in addition to that, it is likely that Russia is also keen to display its power and in particular to emphasize its ability “to impose substantial costs on a technologically advanced adversary, i.e. the United States” (see the very good piece from War on the Rocks that covers Russian thinking – https://warontherocks.com/2017/08/what-to-expect-when-youre-expecting-zapad-2017/ ). To cite the same piece, Zapad is also a way to establish Russia’s coercive credibility.

Is Zapad 2017 a cause of concern for NATO and a possible source of tension? That may be overstating it. Apprehension sure, but tension is too strong a word. It is true that Russia staged large drills before the conflict in Georgia in 2008 and before annexing Crimea in 2014. And Russia is most likely dramatically understating the number of troops involved in Zapad 2017 (announcing 12,700 troops, which puts it just under the threshold of 13,000 by which Russia would have to invite outside observers).

But on the other hand, there are plenty of reasons to keep Zapad 2017 in perspective. Many countries conduct such exercises, and Russia has conducted many before that were not prelude to actual operations. Moreover, part of the exercises will take place well inside Belarus and from a healthy distance away from the Polish and Lithuanian borders. Not to mention that it would be quite foolish for Russia to try and use the exercise as a smokescreen for an actual operation when NATO states are keeping a close eye on the region.

Konrad MuzykaEurope and CIS Armed Forces Analyst, IHS Jane’s

The overall objective of Zapad is to test how Russia, its C2 structures, armed forces units, and civil organisations will react if country went to war with NATO. Zapad has always had an anti-NATO character so it should not at all be surprising that NATO is target here.

That said, Zapad is much more than a military exercise. A significant part of country’s C2 structures, civil organisations are involved in Zapad as Moscow will want to see how they mobilise, move, develop, conduct operations in a state of war or increased emergency. The current movement of troops, readiness tests (such as the one from early September that tested readiness of the 11 ICBM regiments) likely fall under what Russia’s call a “threatening period”. This is when Moscow realises that threats are real. These threats need to be addressed by troop deployments, flexing muscles, and improving readiness. These moves are also a part of Zapad. How Russia mobilises pre-official start of Zapad will also be closely assessed by the civil-military leadership post-exercise.

In short not really. Zapad is going to be provide a great insight on the progress of the Russian Armed Forces reforms, how and how quickly it mobilises, how it seeks to deter potential adversaries. We should learn from it and how to be afraid of it.

It is very likely that aircraft will be intercepted over the Baltic Sea by both sides, NATO will deploy SIGINT and ELINT assets to take a peek into what’s going on in the Kaliningrad Oblast. I don’t expect tensions to run higher compared to what we have experienced in the past two-three years.

Dmitry Gorenburg, Senior Research Scientist, CNA Corporation

In conducting these large capstone exercises, Russia has pursued both military and political aims. On the military side, Russia seeks to highlight its abilities to conduct large-scale joint operations that involve multiple branches of its armed forces and require the activation of logistics networks that include the transfer of forces from one part of the country to another. Zapad 2017 and other exercises in this series also seek to develop military cooperation between Russia and Belarus, since Belarus is Russia’s most capable military ally and serves as a critical buffer zone between Russian and NATO member states. What’s more, a NATO intervention in Belarus is seen in Russia as one of the most likely causes for a major military confrontation between Russia and the West.

On the political side, Zapad-2017 is aimed at deterring the West by highlighting Russia’s preparedness to counter any aggressive actions by NATO or its individual member states. Despite Western perceptions of Russian aggressiveness, Russia continues to feel relatively weak when compared to the United States and its allies. As a result, it seeks to highlight its capabilities to defend itself, against both a direct attack and regime change efforts. The recent Western media stories highlighting the potential size of the exercise are very helpful in Russia achieving this goal.

NATO should treat Zapad 2017 as an opportunity to study the Russian military’s strengths and weaknesses and also its defensive strategy for its Western border. I don’t see any reason for tensions to be high during the exercise, except for the misplaced concerns expressed by politicians in neighboring NATO states about the possibility of the exercise being a cover for a Russian invasion.

Statements that Russian military exercises on its borders are inevitably a precursor to foreign intervention are a prime example of selection bias. Russia conducts military exercises on its borders many times a year, usually with little notice from non-specialists. Only on two occasions have these these exercises been followed by foreign interventions, and in both cases these took place during major international crises, not as a surprise attack. Russia has repeatedly indicated that it is not interested in a forceful intervention in the Baltic, both because it has no desire to occupy hostile territory and because its leaders continue to have faith in NATO’s willingness to back its Article 5 guarantees to its Baltic member states with armed force.

Amid Western Concerns, Belarus Says Zapad Drills Will Comply With International Agreements

Opposition supporters take part in a rally during a protest against the upcoming Russian-Belarussian Zapad-2017 military exercises, and to mark the Day of Belarussian Military Glory in Minsk, Belarus, 08 September 2017. EPA-EFE/TATYANA ZENKOVICH

MINSK — Belarus says its upcoming military maneuvers with Russia won’t violate international agreements, amid Western concerns about the war games.

The chief of the Belarusian Defense Ministry’s department for international cooperation, Major General Aleh Voinau, told journalists in Minsk on September 13 that international organizations and governments — including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and NATO member states — have been informed in a timely fashion about the Zapad (West) 2017 exercises in accordance with OSCE rules known as the Vienna Document.

Voinau said that the number of personnel, weapons, and military hardware involved in the Zapad 2017 exercises, which are set to be held in Belarus and parts of western Russia on September 14-20, will comply with the Vienna Document as well.

Under the Vienna Document, states conducting maneuvers involving more than 13,000 troops must notify other nations in advance and be open to observers.

Russia and Belarus say Zapad 2017 will involve about 12,700 troops. But Western military officials and experts say that the true numbers could be far higher, with as many as 100,000 military personnel involved.

Russia charges that Western concerns about the exercises are unfounded, saying they are “purely defensive” and pose no threat to Russia’s neighbors, NATO, or the West.

Voinau said that by September 30, all Belarusian military personnel and equipment will return to their bases and all Russian troops and equipment will leave Belarus.

Dialogue with NATO and Belarusian National Security

He also insisted that the drills will be held far from the borders with foreign countries.

Last week, British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon and German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said that Zapad 2017 will involve about 100,000 troops and accused Moscow of seeking to show off military might on the borders of the EU and NATO.

In an interview with the Russian Defense Ministry’s newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda on September 13, the commander of Russia’s Western Military District said such statements were made “without any evidence.”

“It is a defensive training and it is the final stage of the joint training of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus,” Colonel General Andrei Kartapolov said. “We conduct such events regularly in accordance with decisions made by our heads of state.”

Fallon told the BBC on September 10 that Zapad 2017 aims at “provoking” NATO and “testing” its defenses.

Speaking on September 7 in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, von der Leyen said, “It is undisputed that we see a demonstration of the capabilities and power of the Russians.”

NATO says it will send three observers to Belarus and Russia to monitor Zapad 2017 but has repeatedly called on the two countries to allow broader monitoring of the drills.

Belarus borders NATO members Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, as well as Ukraine. The area in which the upcoming exercises are due to take place also includes the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, which lies between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea.

Russia’s military actions in Ukraine have increased concerns about Moscow’s intentions in NATO nations, particularly former Soviet republics or Warsaw Pact satellites of the Soviet Union.

Russia occupied and seized the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and backs separatists whose war against Kyiv’s forces has killed more than 10,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April of that year.

Those actions have prompted NATO to step up its defenses in the east, deploying four multinational battlegroups in the three Baltic states and Poland — totaling approximately 4,500 troops.

With reporting by Interfax

 

Estonian, Finnish Defence Ministers speak about Zapad, defense cooperation

TALLINN, Sep 13, BNS – Estonian Minister of Defense Juri Luik and his Finnish counterpart Jussi Niinisto during their meeting in Helsinki on Wednesday discussed defense cooperation and matters related to the Zapad joint large scale military exercise of Russia and Belarus.

Luik and Niinisto talked about the regional security situation in view of the Zapad large scale exercise and bilateral defense cooperation, spokespeople for the Estonian Defense Ministry said.

Also discussed was defense cooperation within the European Union, which has been supported also by Finland.

During an informal meeting of EU defense ministers in Tallinn last week, the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and the Estonian minister of defense both expressed hope that important decisions concerning EU defense cooperation will be reached already by the end of this year.

Finland is positively minded about EU defense cooperation and is waiting for practical solutions.

Luik also visited the Hietaniemi cemetery in Helsinki and laid wreaths to honor fallen soldiers.

 

Estonian Defence Minister to visit Finland on Wednesday

Estonian Minister of Defense Jüri Luik

HELSINKI, Sep 12, STT-BNS – Estonian Minister of Defense Jüri Luik is to visit Finland on Wednesday, the Finnish Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday.

Among others, Luik is to meet with Finnish Minister of Defense Jussi Niinisto, with whom he will discuss bilateral relations, the security situation on the Baltic Sea and bilateral and international cooperation, the ministry’s statement said.

Jüri Luik has held the positions of Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Estonian Minister of Defense and the permanent representative for Estonia in NATO. Currently he is the Estonian minister of Defence.

Prior to his current position, Mr. Luik was from 2003 – 2007 the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Estonia to Canada, the United Mexican States and the United States of America. He has been active in Estonian foreign affairs since 1991.

 

Russian Zapad military exercise in Belarus raises tension

Mil Mi-24P Russian Air Force

It is being billed as a military exercise, but when Russian and Belarusian forces start Zapad-2017 this week, many neighbouring countries will be looking on nervously.

Zapad-2017 (“West-2017”) is a joint strategic-level exercise involving Russian and Belarusian military forces, expected to begin on 14 September in Russia’s western military district Kaliningrad, and across Belarus.

It is scheduled to last about a week, but may well go on for longer. The exercise is part of a four-year rolling cycle of manoeuvres that focus each year on one broad region or “front” (“West”, “Eastern”, “Central” or “Caucasus”). This year’s Zapad exercise though is drawing much greater attention than did its predecessor in 2013.

The context has changed significantly. Russia has seized and annexed Crimea; it has supported a separatist war in eastern Ukraine with weaponry, training and, for periods, its own combat units. Russia is thus seen by several Nato countries as much more threatening.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has described Russia’s build-up for the exercise as “preparations for an offensive war on a continental scale”. Ukrainian border defences, he said, are being bolstered.

He also pointed to the fact that in his view, Russia has form here, using the pretext of an exercise to mobilise and position forces to conduct offensive operations. President Poroshenko said he could not rule out the possibility that the drill “may be used as a smokescreen to create new Russian army assault groups to invade Ukrainian territory”.

Russia’s T-90A Main Battle Tank

Units on the move

Nato watchers and insiders do not necessarily share this concern about an all-out invasion of Ukraine.

Russia expert Keir Giles, a fellow at Chatham House think tank, acknowledges that “previous Russian exercises on this scale have prepositioned troops for undertaking military operations, against Georgia in 2008 and against Ukraine in 2014”.

However, he says, “both of those moves were precipitated by an immediate political crisis – currently absent in Europe.

“And there have been plenty of other major Russian exercises in between,” he says, “which did not end up with somebody getting invaded”.

US backs Baltics against Russia ‘threat’

Nato fears fast-moving Russian troops

Eastern Ukraine: A new, bloody chapter

Russia’s information warfare in Europe

Nonetheless, the fear of a resurgent and more aggressive Russia is real enough. That is why, over the past year, Nato has sent small multi-national units to Poland and to each of the three Baltic republics to underline its deterrent message. And that is why this year’s war games will be watched so closely.

Just how closely is a contentious issue. Russia, unlike Belarus, has been far more reluctant to invite Western observers in any number. This despite the fact that, as a member of the OSCE international security body, it is obliged to send out broad invitations if an exercise numbers more than 13,000 troops.

Mr Giles notes that, while Russia may be “content to see Europe alarmed at the prospect of Moscow throwing its military weight around”, Belarus seeks instead to calm the situation. The siting of the exercise in ranges across the middle of the country – not near the Polish and Lithuanian borders – was a deliberate policy decision intended to reduce the chances of misinterpretation, or incidents when Russian troops and aircraft come close to Nato borders.

Yuri Smityuk/TASS

Belarus has been much more open towards international observers. Clearly satellites, airborne radars and other national intelligence collection measures will be used by Nato countries.

In addition, efforts are under way to mobilise concerned citizens in Belarus to observe military movements in their area and post them online for the benefit of non-government, open-source analysts and experts.

How many troops?

So just how big is this exercise and what will Western analysts and observers be watching for? Here assessments differ widely.

The Russians say some 12,700 troops will be involved in total, including a significant contingent from Belarus. (Notice this takes it below the 13,000 OSCE threshold.)

Western experts watching the preparations, especially the marshalling of railway flat-cars – the main way of moving heavy armoured formations to the exercise areas – say it will be considerably more.

Some estimates suggest that up to 100,000 troops could be involved, but since there are a range of drills, exercises and spot mobilisations it is hard to be precise about numbers.

Russia will be testing its capacity to contain and respond to some form of outside aggression and will be deploying units from different services: heavy armour; airborne troops; “spetsnaz” elite reconnaissance teams; and electronic warfare specialists.

The Baltic Fleet will be involved, as will units from the 14th Corps based in Kaliningrad. One point of interest may be the part played at the tactical and strategic levels of “information operations troops” – a relatively new formation in the Russian order of battle.

Indeed, while there may be much to learn about Russia’s use of artillery, its capability in electronic warfare (already manifest in the fighting in Ukraine) and the growing importance of precision-guided munitions in Russia’s thinking, it may be this information aspect that is most important. For beyond the troop movements, Zapad-2017 is part of a wider propaganda effort to influence and shape opinion in the West.

Atmosphere of suspicion

The US analyst Michael Kofman in a fascinating piece on the War on the Rocks website, describes Zapad as “a good window into the Russian mindset.

“For all the modernisation and transformation of the Russian armed forces,” he writes, “in reality the Russian leadership is probably still afraid: afraid the United States will try to make a bid for Belarus, afraid of American technological and economic superiority, afraid the US seeks regime change in Moscow, and afraid Washington desires the complete fragmentation of Russian influence in its near abroad, or even worse, Russia itself.”

“Zapad,” he argues, “is the most coherent manifestation of these fears, and a threat from Moscow to the United States about what it might do if the worst should come to pass.”

And what of those lingering fears in some quarters that this could be much more than just an exercise? Mr Giles remains unconvinced by much of the media hyperbole surrounding Zapad.

But he has this caution: “The time to watch troop deployments most closely,” he says, “is likely to be after the exercise proper has ended.”

The final day of Zapad is 20 September but, he notes, “Russian troops are only scheduled to leave Belarus by 30 September – after the observers have departed, and when the media interest will have died down. That will be the time to decide whether Zapad this year has in fact passed off peacefully.”

 

Russian ‘Zapad-2017’ drill – what does Moscow want?

The large “Zapad-2017” war games will pit the troops of Russia and Belarus against terrorist infiltrators from three “hypothetical” Eastern European countries. DW gives you an overview of the upcoming drill.

Moscow and Minsk are finalizing their preparations for the week-long “Zapad-2017” drill, which is set to start next Thursday. In it, the two countries will deploy their troops, designated as “the Northern ones” to stand up to the aggression from “the Western ones” – armed attackers from the made-up countries of Vesbaria, Lubenia, and Veishnoria.

According to the scenario released by Russian and Belarusian defense officials, Vesbaria and Lubenia are located in the Baltic region and control the corridor which links the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad with Belarus. In the real world, the corridor roughly corresponds to the border between Lithuania and Poland, both of them NATO members.

The hypothetical state of Veishnoria, however, is located in the Grodno area of Belarus, near the country’s western border.

Read more: Ursula von der Leyen says Russia showing off ‘power’

Independent experts see this as a sign that Minsk and Moscow are preparing scenarios for threats originating in NATO countries as well as from within Belarus. The Grodno area seems to have a special significance as the home for a large population of Poles living in the former Soviet state. However, military officials insist that the scenario was developed “against a hypothetical opponent, unrelated to the concrete region.”

What is the goal of the drill?

“Belarus and the Kaliningrad region have been infiltrated by extremist groups with the intention of committing terrorist attacks. The illegal militias are backed from abroad, providing them with armaments and naval and air capabilities. In order to neutralize the opponents, land forces will be deployed to cut off their access to sea and block air corridors in the region, with the support of the air force, air defense forces, and the navy,” the official plan says.

Read more: Russia readies troops for Zapad war games with Belarus

The goal of the Zapad-2017 maneuvers is to coordinate actions between regional military commands “in the interest of ensuring military safety,” Moscow and Minsk said. “The Republic of Belarus strives to prevent armed conflicts, and the Russian federation is providing it with political backing, financial aid, as well as technical and military support,” according to the Belarusian Defense Ministry.

The drill is set to proceed in two stages. Initially, the military will boost their air force and air defense capabilities to protect key military and state objects, and prepare to “isolate regions of activity by the illegal armed groups and their subversive-reconnaissance squads.” The second stage will be “to work out the issues of managing troops while repelling an aggression” against Russia and Belarus.

Mi-24Ps Russian Air Force

How many troops will take part?

The two countries say that some 12,700 servicemen will be involved in the upcoming drills. “Zapad-2017” will also involve 70 planes and helicopters, 280 tanks, 200 artillery weapons, ten ships, and various other pieces of military equipment. The drills will also include agents of the Russian intelligence service FSB, as well as people working for the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Emergency Situations.

However, NATO allies have repeatedly disputed these numbers, with German Defense Minister Ursula Von der Leyen claiming the real number is likely to be upwards of 100,000 troops. International accords mandate that countries provide a larger degree of transparency when holding drills with over 13,000 troops.

On Saturday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said it was “bewildered” by Von der Leyen’s assertion, and repeated its claims that drill would stay below the 13,000 threshold. Previously, the Kremlin has asked foreign defense officials and military-diplomatic corps to visit the final stage of the joint exercise at one of the sites in Russia. Belarus also stated that it had sent out invitations to UN, OSCE, NATO, the post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States, and military attaches accredited in Belarus.

Where will the drill be staged?

The bases will involve seven locations in Belarus, one location in the heavily militarized Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, and two in western Russia. In order to reduce tensions with neighboring countries, the authors of the drill made an effort to pick the areas “at a significant distance from the border.”

NATO’s eastern members are concerned over the deployment of Russian troops near their territory, as Moscow has been known to stage large drills ahead of conflict in Georgia in 2008 and the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Some have even speculated that Russia might use the troops to occupy Belarus, its closest European ally. Most observers, however, consider this move to be extremely unlikely.

The drill has “strictly defensive character, its execution will not present any threat for the European community as a whole, nor for the neighboring countries,” the Russian defense ministry said. The Belarusian side has ensured that after the drills are over “by September 30 the military personnel, weapons, military equipment and specialized devices of Republic of Belarus will be returned to its permanent deployment locations, and the elements of the Russian military will leave Belarusian territory.”

 

 

Russian jets scrambled 9 times in past ten days to intercept foreign aircraft

Yuri Smityuk/TASS

Russian planes were scrambled nine times during the past ten days to intercept foreign aircraft near Russian borders, the Russian Defense Ministry said in its weekly infographics published on Friday.

According to the ministry’s data, 30 foreign aircraft conducted air surveillance near the Russian borders. “Any violation of the Russian airspace was prevented,” the ministry said.

Last week, the Russian military conducted two inspections in foreign states – in Poland as part of the Open Skies Treaty and in Czech Republic under the Vienna Document 2011 on confidence and security-building measures in Europe.

Four foreign military inspections were carried out on the Russian territory in the reported period. An inspection by Finnish military experts was carried out as part of the Open Skies Treaty and a joint Polish-Italian mission took place in line with the Vienna Document 2011. Besides, OPCW experts also visited Russia, as well as US military officials who monitored its compliance with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

 

 

Diplomat slams Finland’s decision to bar Russia’s Kruzenshtern Barque from docking at Mariehamn

Sergei Fadeichev/TASS

Finland’s decision to bar Russia’s Kruzenshtern barque from docking at the port of Mariehamn, located on the Aland Islands, is unjustified, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Friday.

“We regret the Finnish authorities’ decision to bar the training ship from docking at the port of Mariehamn, the Aland Islands, on September 18-20, as it was planned, despite the invitation from the city administration,” she said. “This unjustified decision seems strange, since only several weeks ago, the ship visited the Finnish ports of Kotka and Turku during The Tall Ships Races,” Zakharova pointed out. According to the Russian diplomat, “the residents of the Aland Islands have been deprived of the opportunity to see the legendary barque, which always sparks interest, no matter what port it docks at.”

The Hufvudstadsbladet daily reported about the ban on the Russian ship’s visit to Mariehamn on Monday. Finland’s Army Communications Chief Eero Karhuvaara said that the Finnish Defense Forces would not comment on the decision. A thing to note is that in the summer 2017, the Kruzenshtern visited Finland’s Kotka and Turku without facing any issues.

The Kruzenshtern, a four-masted barque, was built in Bremerhaven, Germany, in 1926 as the Padua. In 1945, she was surrendered to the Soviet Union as war reparation and renamed after 19th-century Russian admiral and explorer of Baltic Ivan Kruzenshtern.

The Kruzenshtern has been used as a training ship in the past years. Over its 90-year history, the barque has made two round-the-globe voyages, as well as a trans-Atlantic expedition, and won many sailing races, covering an overall distance of 1.3 million nautical miles.

On August 22, the Kruzenshtern, carrying 120 students of seven naval schools from Kaliningrad, Kerch, Yeysk and Astrakhan onboard (ten of them are girls), sailed off from Russia’s westernmost port of Kaliningrad for its third and final voyage of 2017. The ship is expected to return home on September 24.

 

 

NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander to arrive on visit to Latvia

General Sir James Everard, NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander

General Sir James Everard, NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, will arrive on a visit to Latvia for NATO exercises Steadfast Pyramid 2017 and Steadfast Pinnacle 2017, the Latvian Defense Ministry’s press service reported.

Everard in Riga will meet with Latvian Defense Minister Raimonds Bergmanis and Chief of Defense Leonids Kalnins to discuss topical international and regional security issues.

The general will also visit the NATO integration unit in Latvia and meet its commander Janis Gailis. Everard will also meet with NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence Director Janis Sarts.

As reported, the Latvian Defense Academy in Riga on September 10-22 will host NATO exercises SteadfastPyramid 2017 and Steadfast Pinnacle 2017 with participation of more than 40 commanders from NATO member states, Finland and Sweden.

The goal of the exercise is to improve the ability of top-level officers and commanders to plan and lead joint operations.

Steadfast Pyramid 2017 is the first part of the exercise that will last until September 15, and Steadfast Pinnacle 2017 will last from September 17 until September 22.

Steadfast Pyramid and Steadfast Pinnacle exercises were conducted in Latvia for the first time in 2011. According to the agreement between Latvia and Supreme Allied Commander Transformation the exercises will be conducted in Latvia till 2018 .

By hosting these exercises Latvia develops its operational capabilities as the host country and improves the cooperation skills with other NATO countries and strategic regional partners.