During the Zapad (“West”) 2017 exercises, the Kremlin will test how ready Russia is for a major war with the West, said NSDC (National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine) Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov.
According to him, it has been officially declared that the exercises will involve roughly 13,000 military personnel, including roughly 3,000 from the Russian Armed Forces, and roughly 280 items of weaponry and military equipment and 25 items of aviation equipment. Aside from the armed forces, the drills will involve state management organizations on a federal, regional and local level, the Russian National Guard, Interior Ministry, FSB, EMERCOM, MIC, and the like.
However, the real number of participants in all the events relating to Zapad 2017 is estimated at 230-240 thousand, more than 10,000 items of military equipment, roughly 100 aircraft and 40 seagoing vessels of various classes, the NSDC Secretary observed.
According to Turchynov, the exercises will last for nearly two months in virtually all of the territory of the European part of Russia, in the Crimea and the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, along the Ukrainian border, especially in the Donetsk, Slobozhanskyi and Polesskyi regions, in Belarus and also in the Mediterranean Sea and in Syria. A demonstrative performance of the active phase of the exercises has been planned in the territory of the Kaliningrad, Leningrad, Pskov and Smolensk provinces, and also in Belarusian territory. Control of the Russian railways will be handed over to the Russian Ministry of Defense in relevant regions.
The Ukrainian NSDC secretary does not consider it impossible that under the pretext of drills, Russia is planning to create groups of strike forces in order to cross the state border and invade Ukrainian territory.
He mentioned several examples of how drills have repeatedly been used to achieve hidden military and political goals. For example, after the Kavkaz 2008 exercises (15th July - 2nd August 2008), Russia began its armed aggression against Georgia.
Under the pretext of ensuring the security of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in February 2014, Russia deployed groups of forces to carry out a special operation relating to the occupation of the Crimea, Turchynov pointed out.
In the NSDC Secretary’s opinion, against the backdrop of the difficult economic situation, which has even forced the Kremlin to cut back on the military articles of the state budget, such large scale drills cannot be simply regular military training.
“Overall, all of this cumulatively gives evidence that it is not just the Armed Forces of Russia which are preparing for a major war, but the entire Russian government, with the corresponding expenditure of material and other resources. In this way, with the Zapad 2017 drills, the Kremlin is testing how ready the Russian Armed Forces and the state as a whole are for a major war with the West,” he emphasized.
Turchynov also warned that in the near future there may be new attempts at Russian military interference in the matters of Ukraine, Belarus, the South Caucasus and Central Asia.