The scheduled Russia-Belarus Zapad-2017 military drills are on course while United States has deployed its tanks in neighboring Poland.
Up to 12,700 servicemen (about 7,200 from Belarus and some 5,500 from Russia) are taking part in the Zapad-2017 drills, which kicked off on Thursday and are expected to continue until September 20.
The US and NATO dispute this, however, and claim the drills could involve as many as 100,000 troops, making it one of the largest Russian exercises since the Cold War. Russia has invited NATO experts to attend the drills in a sign of transparency. In a statement announcing the start of the exercises Russiaís defense ministry insisted the maneuvers are "of a strictly defensive nature and are not directed against any other state or group of countries."
The drills cover a vast area from the western borders of Russia and Belarus up into the Arctic and will see the two country’s forces fake a battle. Also involved in the exercise are about 70 planes and helicopters, 680 ground vehicles, including about 250 tanks, 200 artillery pieces, multiple rocket launchers and mortars and ten ships.
The main purpose of the exercise is to improve the compatibility of command and control centers, test new documentation and let commanders of all levels practice planning and control of operations on the basis of experience gained in the latest military conflicts.
As the drills commenced, US delivered heavy military equipment in Poland that reportedly includes 87 M1 Abrams tanks, 103 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, 18 Paladin self-propelled Howitzers, and other trucks and equipment. US Defense officials claim the hardware is there for a swap rather than action but it is the first time such vehicles have arrived in Poland directly by sea.
Russia slams increased NATO military presence in Eastern Europe
When commenting on NATO statesí reaction to the planned drills, the Russian Foreign Ministry said earlier that the increasing military presence of NATO in Eastern Europe went unnoticed amid groundless criticism of the Russian-Belarusian Zapad-2017 military exercises.
Moscow has repeatedly criticized the increased presence of the alliance’s troops and military facilities near the Russian border. Moscow has said Russia had never planned and does not plan to attack any NATO member.
While criticizing Zapad 2017, NATO and its allies have increased their military activity on Russiaís borders. For example, Sweden is holding its largest war games in over two decades, which coincide with the Russia-Belarus drills. Moreover, around 40,000 NATO troops and allied forces have taken part in various military drills in Europe this summer, according to Air Force Brigadier General John Healy, who directs the drills of US forces in Europe. Eighteen NATO exercises, including Noble Partner in Georgia, occurred in the Black Sea Region alone, close to the Russian border, in summer 2017.
Russia-China naval drills challenging US hegemonic ambitions
Meanwhile, four Chinese navy ships have departed for joint drills with Russia in the latest sign of growing cooperation between the two nuclear powers that could challenge the US hegemonic ambitions in the Asia-Pacific. A destroyer, missile frigate, supply ship and submarine rescue ship departed Wednesday from the port of Qingdao, home to Chinaís north sea fleet. The drills are being held in the Sea of Japan near the Korean Peninsula and the Sea of Okhotsk off the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, China’s Xinhua news agency reported. The exercises are the second stage of an annual joint drill, the first part of which was held July 22-27 in the Baltic Sea, the first time the countries had exercised together in the northern European waterbody.