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ZAPAD 2017 - Russia's Largest Ever War Games Set to Take Place in September

August 25th - 2017

Following the success of their joint ZAPAD war games in 2013, Russia and Belarus are set to hold larger war games in 2017. These will stretch from Russia's Northwestern Kola Peninsula to Belarus, and are set to involve 11-13,000 Belarusian personnel and 60-100,000 Russian personnel. This will make it the largest military exercise in the two countries' history as independent states, eclipsed only by military drills held in the Soviet era. As of August 2017 preparations for the colossal exercises have already begun, with Russia's military logistics units arriving in Belarus from August 15th and preparatory exercises taking place from August 21st to 25th. On August 23rd the two states also began joint aerial drills with Russian forces deploying to Belarusian airfields and training for potential combat scenarios - including having to land combat aircraft on civilian motorways. Russia's Northern fleet, the largest of its four fleets, has also begun preparatory drills for the larger ZAPAD exercises as of August 7th.

With such drills seen to be a challenge to their military dominance in Europe, leading NATO officials from its Secretary General to the commanding general of United States Army Europe have voiced their concern regarding the drills. ZAPAD is perceived by NATO to be a response to the Western alliance's Eastward expansion and as a potential pretext to increase Russia's military presence in Belarus permanently. Russia and Belarus maintain, much as NATO has for its own drills, that ZAPAD is purely defensive in nature - noting its small scale relative to NATO's own drills in Eastern Europe. NATO's Secretary General Stoltenburg has nevertheless declared that the alliance is "going to follow and monitor the ZAPAD exercise area closely". Ukraine's Defence Minister Poltorak similarly stated that his country would closely monitor the drills, as along with NATO Ukraine is threatened by any challenges to the Western dominated post-Cold War balance of power in Europe.

ZAPAD is set to be a large scale demonstration of Russian military prowess, and will likely lead to Belarus' further integration into joint European defence plans. Russia and Belarus remain one another's closest military partners in Europe, and with the relations of both states with the West having deteriorated in recent years it is to be expected that the two would further integrate their militaries through increased cooperation - much as the rest of Europe has through NATO. Whether Serbia, another non NATO state with historically hostile relations with the Western bloc, may itself further integrate into this alliance is yet to be seen - though its participation in the Slavic Brotherhood drills in 2016 as a third party alongside Russia and Belarus indicates that this may well be a possibility. While NATO has attempted to isolate Russia in Europe and maintain a strongly Western favouring balance of power on the continent, Russia's large scale military exercises and growing military cooperation with the few friendly East European powers remaining indicates that it could well successfully counter these efforts.

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