Russia/Belarus politics: Quick View - Zapad military exercises end (almost) uneventfully

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Country Data and Maps
Economist Intelligence Unit
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International Relations, Politics, News Analysis, Forecast
Political Geography
Russia, Belarus


On September 14th-20th Belarus and Russia conducted joint military exercises, Zapad 2017. The exercises demonstrated Belarusian and Russian logistical capabilities and their ability to co-operate militarily.


The war games covered a stretch of Russian and Belarusian territory from the Russia-Finland border to the Belarus-Ukraine border. According to the Russian and Belarusian defence ministries, 12,700 troops took part in the manoeuvres. Seven firing ranges on Belarusian territory were used by 370 armoured vehicles, including 140 tanks and 150 artillery pieces. More than 40 combat aircraft (both fixed-wing and helicopters) provided the air component of the exercises. Belarus also deployed air-defence systems, including the long-range S-300. This deployment indicates that Russia (which has a joint air-defence system with Belarus) still believes that the older S-300 system is relevant, even though the Russian air force is currently deploying more modern S-400 air-defence complexes.

The first stage of the war games, which mainly involved Belarusian troops, including a large number of reservists, concentrated on special forces operations against fictitious paramilitary groups infiltrating Belarusian territory from three fictitious countries west of Belarus. The Russian participants' turn came later in the exercises, when Russian armoured units were called to destroy the regular forces of a fictitious enemy that broke through Russian border defences in a blitzkrieg pattern. Contrary to fears expressed by the Belarusian opposition and some Western media, Russian troops did not stay in Belarus after the Zapad 2017 war games ended, nor did they use the joint exercises with Belarusian forces as a stepping stone to a break-through in Poland.

The exercises ended (almost) uneventfully. However, according to social media, a Russian helicopter fired a rocket at a bystander "by accident" near a firing range next to the Russian city of St Petersburg, possibly on September 16th. The Russian military denied that the mishap happened on September 18th, when Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, visited the same firing range. On September 16th two Russian military jets entered Lithuania's airspace on their way to the Kaliningrad exclave. This violation of Lithuania's airspace prompted protests from the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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