Russian-Belarusian military exercise Zapad 2017 begins at NATO’s eastern border   

Taming the Viejšnoryja separatists

The countries of Viejšnoryja (Veyshnoria) (part of Belarus), Vesbarija and Lubenija (parts of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia) formed a coalition with the aim of seizing Belarus. Russia, which revealed the insidious plan of the western neighbors, rushes to the rescue of its ally Belarus. That is the legend of Zapad-2017 Russian-Belarusian strategic military exercise in the territory of Belarus, which began on September 14, 2017, and will continue until September 20, 2017, along NATO’s eastern flank. According to official information, about 13,000 troops from both countries will be involved in the exercises, 3,000 of whom are Russian servicemen, and 680 units of military equipment. The exercises will be held at seven training areas, including two Air Force and Air Defense grounds.

On the eve of the exercise, the Defense Ministry of Belarus assured that the joint military maneuvers with Russia are exclusively defensive and will be held under the supervision of international observers of the UN, OSCE, NATO, CIS, CSTO, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. “As part of the implementation of confidence and security measures, as well as in the framework of bilateral training agreements, representatives of the military departments of Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Sweden, Norway are expected to attend. More than 80 observers are expected.” This information was provided by the Radio Svoboda press-service department.

Ukraine’s reaction

The exercise is a restoration of the Soviet tradition of the Warsaw Pact countries’ joint military exercises, which were thus preparing to confront NATO, and have been conducted alternately in the territory of Belarus and Russia since 2009. The previous exercise was held in 2013 mainly within the territory of Russia’s Kaliningrad region, as well as at several Belarusian training areas. They were attended by 10,000 troops from the two states. The distinctive feature of 2017 exercises is a change in the geopolitical situation: Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine,  its confrontation with NATO; and Belarus, which was a negotiating platform for Ukraine and Russia in discussing the Donbas problem, according to military analysts, acts as an ally of the aggressor country.

During Zapad-2017 military exercise in Belarus, the Russian Federation wants to demonstrate its ability to conduct combat operations in Europe, says Oleksandr Turchynov, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine. “It may be a warning to the West that it should not interfere in new adventures, including military, which the Kremlin can provoke both in Ukraine and in other independent states in the region,” Turchynov said.

Chief of the General Staff of Ukraine Viktor Muzhenko noted that Zapad-2017 military exercise forces Ukraine to prepare for various scenarios. According to him, these exercises are aimed at preparing Russian troops for offensive actions and is a threat to both NATO countries and post-Soviet states.

Oleh Slobodian, assistant chairman of the State Tax Administration, said: “Since the beginning of September, we have begun command-and-staff exercise.” Within these exercises, border areas have been reinforced in all directions: ATO zone, northern, western, and southern areas. We reinforce our efforts in all areas, at least until the end of Zapad-2017 Russian-Belarusian exercise. Territorial defense detachments helped to form special units and set up check-points on the highways leading to Belarus.

NATO allies’ concern

NATO allies are concerned that Moscow may leave military equipment in Belarus after the exercises finish and will potentially be able to use it for the rapid crossing of the border with the Baltic States, as it was in Georgia in 2008 and in Ukraine in 2014. The NATO Alliance deployed four battalion combat groups, a total of nearly 4,500 troops, in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland.

According to Raimundas Karoblis, Minister of National Defense of the Republic of Lithuania, they are simulating offensive actions against Poland and the Baltic States during their exercises: “This is a simulation of offensive rather than defensive actions against NATO and, in particular, against the Baltic States and, probably, Poland. As reported by our and our allies’ intelligence, this is about the military exercises; there are no preludes to a full or partial conflict,” Delfi quotes the minister.

The Latvian National Armed Forces (NAF) are ready for possible provocations during the exercise. There are also doubts about the transparency and openness of the exercise.

The Ministers of Defense of Germany and the United Kingdom stated that 100,000 servicemen could actually take part in the exercises.

UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said that Russia conducts the exercise “to provoke us, it is designed to test our defenses.”

What does Russia hide?

In August, the international intelligence community InformNapalm recorded a large-scale displacement of Russian military equipment throughout the European border. Besides, Russia prepared new railway spurs: on August 7, a road was put into operation to the south of Russia near the border with Ukraine. The journalists saw an analogy with the events that occurred 9 years ago: in 2008, two months before its invasion of Georgia, Russia began urgently building new roads to the Georgian border. Besides, they conducted the large-scale exercises of the Russian Armed Forces “Kavkaz-2008.”

The number of carriages used for transferring Russian forces to Belarus invites a question, said reserve admiral, former Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Ihor Kabanenko. “It should be noted that the problem with these exercises arose a long time ago, because the Russian General Staff had planned to provide a large number of railway platforms for transferring Russian troops to Belarus. More than 4 thousand carriages and platforms were planned to provide. Using this number of carriages, the whole army can be transferred over a long distance.”

Before these exercises a new wave of concerns in Ukraine was caused by submission of amendments to the Agreement on the joint regional air defense system of Belarus and Russia for ratification to the State Duma of Russia by Russian President Volodymyr Putin. In fact, this agreement can give Russia the right to use air defense facilities on the borders of Belarus and Ukraine.

It should be reminded that the co-operation between the Belarusian and Russian special services is close and fruitful. Recently, Ukrainian citizen Hryb who had been declared wanted by Russian services disappeared in Belarus.

(Virtual) reality

Throughout the summer, Internet users of the Belarusian segment were competing in humor, because Veyshnoria, according to the exercise legend, is the real western part of Belarus, in which Belarusian-speaking Catholics prevail, that is, they are potential opponents of the pro-Russian government.

Veyshnoria covers the territory of most part of Grodno region and the north-western parts of Minsk and Vitebsk regions. The Veyshnoria border largely coincides with the border between Poland and the USSR in 1920-1939. Similarly, Veyshnoria coincides with the territory where, during the presidential election in 1994, a large percentage of people voted for Zenon Poznyak.

Virtual representative offices of a fictional country appeared on the Internet. You can even order a passport of Veyshnoria. Belarusian opinion leaders are concerned that this virtual game may have real social consequences.