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Published On: Mon, Mar 20th, 2017

Russian -Belarussian 2017 Zapad Military Exercise to Span from Kola Peninsula to Belarus

nsnbc : Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko has approved the concept for the 2017 Zapad (West) joint Russian – Belarussian military exercise scheduled for September, said Belarussian Defense Minister Andrei Ravkov.

SU-35_Sukhoi_RussiaRavkov told the Belarussian State news agency BelTa that the span of the exercise is “impressive”. More precisely, the 2017 Zapad exercise will span from the Kola Peninsula near the Russian border to Norway and Finland to Belarus. Ravkov added that seven exercise areas and locations in Belarus will be used by the regional military force.

The Zapad 2017 exercise is supposed to take place on 14-20 September. Andrei Ravkov noted that the regional military force includes units of the Belarusian army and the 1st Tank Army of the Western Military District of Russia. Some forces and units of the tank army will travel to Belarus for the sake of taking part in the exercise.

The number of troops the exercise will involve will not exceed the parameters specified by the 2011 Vienna Document — 13,000 personnel at most, said Ravkov. The Belarussian Defense Minister also noted that during the joint strategic exercise in Belarus the Russian Federation will be represented by about 3,000 military personnel and about 280 vehicles.

Apart from ground forces the exercise will involve air force units, including up to 25 aircraft and helicopters from the Russian side. “No hype. Everything has been planned,” assured Andrei Ravkov who did not provide any details about the drills but said that “The head of state (Lukashenko) emphasized that the exercise is a way to train the regional military force, which guarantees the defense of the territory of the Union State [of Belarus and Russia] in the western direction”. He also claimed that this is why the exercise will be built around a defensive concept. The exercise will check the readiness of the regional military force to fulfill Union State defense missions.

However, any countries whose neighbors conduct military exercises will always – if they have a responsible military staff – have to analyze the offensive potentials and potential risks associated with their neighbor’s “defensive capabilities”.

Ravkov said “The direction of the regional military force, its training and planned actions are purely defensive. We invite representatives of NATO and Western countries to come here to see it firsthand. … We will send invitations 50 days before the exercise is scheduled to begin. The needs the Western partners have mentioned will be met”. The announcement was made amidst more or less sustained propaganda against the deployment of military units from NATO countries to eastern Europe and military exercises there, with personnel far belo the 13,000 troops who will be involved in the 2017 Zapad drills.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, for his part, affirmed that Belarus is not going to phase out the military cooperation with Russia over the disagreements in other areas. He said “I would like to emphasize for the mass media that in spite of the opinions of certain ‘experts’ no one is going to phase out the military cooperation with Russia because we have the disagreements in other areas. On the contrary, the army exercise is a demonstration of our consistency in the maintenance of security of the two brotherly nations.”

He also stressed that “Oil, gas, food and other issues in our relations are solvable. These are the issues of Belarus and Russia. However, it is inadmissible to be careless about the security and defense of our common borders.” In his words, the international situation is such that the armed forces do their best to improve skills and raise the level of training of the regional Belarus-Russia taskforce for the protection of the western borders of the Union State.

“The forthcoming army exercise is the best way to test the readiness of soldiers of the two countries for interaction. This is how we enhance our joint defense capacity and will do it in the future,” he said. Alexander Lukashenko recalled that many years ago Belarus and Russia agreed to hold such army exercises in one of the two countries by rotation. Now it is Belarus’ turn. The President remarked that Belarus and Russia have created a strong group of armed forces in the western direction, and the Belarusian army makes up the basis of this group. “In case of a conflict or, God forbid, a war the Belarusian Armed Forces will use a certain battle scenario and will be immediately enforced by the corresponding army units from the Russian Federation,” the head of state said. “We have always believed that you need to keep powder dry in peacetime.”

That said, in February Lukashenko spoke out against a Russian air base in Belarus and stressed the need to recall the catastrophic consequences of previous European wars. What difference will the ten aircraft Russia wanted to base in Bobruisk make? I told Putin that the airfield needs to be restored. Half of the runway is gone now. I said we could use 20 aircraft. We have excellent pilots, an excellent school, you know we can fly military aircraft because we have a common military force. But no (Russian Defense Minister) Shoigu wanted to do it differently.”

Lukashenko noted he did not see a clear goal the establishment of such an air base would serve. “What can an aircraft do in a modern war, let’s say, against NATO? Ten minutes of combat. It takes off and it’s gone for good. Wars are different these days. Aircraft can fly freely in Syria because there is no air defense system there. Over here everything is visible even if the aircraft takes off as far as 200km away from here.”

He continued: “And then, what do you think an airfield at the frontline of a theater of war is?. … If a war begins, two missiles can destroy the runway and no aircraft will be able to take off. Why would we need them here? Then Putin said that it takes four minutes for aircraft from Smolensk to fly here. Then I doubted the advisability of setting up such an air base in Belarus again. The president of Russia agreed that Belarus does not need such an air base.”

Lukashenko also stressed that if ten or twenty Russian aircraft were deployed in Belarus, they would not be seen as a full-scale military base but a demonstration, the kind of which Belarus does not need.

He reminded that prior to the ice hockey world championship in 2014 Russia was invited to deploy a wing of fighters in Belarus to take care of air defense together. Four aircraft were deployed in Baranovichi then.

“Once they did their job, I thought they will stay here. They didn’t. Then the matter of the air base establishment was raised again. Why? The Belarusian and Russian military have already come up with the necessary routines. There is no need to change anything. Back then I concluded that the proposal was not a military one,” added Lukashenko.

F/AK – nsnbc 20.03.2017

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