Does the West Conduct Enough War Games? (excerpt)
(Source: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung; published Aug 23, 2017)
By Lorenz Hemicker
A Russian army T-72B main battle tank fitted with a schnorkel crosses a river on a pontoon bridge during a recent exercise. The Russian military exercise twice to three times more often than their NATO counterparts. (RUS MoD photo)
How intensively are the armed forces of Moscow and Nato in Europe preparing for military conflicts? FAZ.NET has analyzed the exercises undertaken by both sides since 2015. The results are clear.


Mid-September is just around the corner. And as it does every year at this time, the Russian military is set to hold its annual fall exercises. Once again, it will likely be far larger than anything the Western world sees at home. Known as Zapad (“West”), the war games are designed to test the readiness of the Russian military for a clash on Nato's eastern flank. Russia has said that only 13,000 soldiers will be involved, but Western experts believe that fully 100,000 will take part in the exercises.

That official number is far from accidental. If Moscow were to add even just a single soldier to that total, the Kremlin would have to allow foreign observers in accordance with its obligations as a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The war games, which have been in detailed preparation for months, awaken unpleasant memories from the Cold War era, and not just because of the name. The focus of the exercises likewise provides cause for concern. They are to be held in the area surrounding the most vulnerable territory belonging to the Nato alliance: the Baltic states. Zapad is to take place in Belarus, the Baltic Sea and in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, separated from Belarus by the Polish-Lithuanian border, which is only just over 100 kilometers long.

If the Baltic countries are the most vulnerable part of Nato territory, then this border is its Achilles' heel. It would be almost impossible to hold in the face of an attack by the vastly superior Russian military, meaning that Nato troops stationed in the Baltics would likely be surrounded within hours by a pincer movement.

The participation of the 1st Guards Tank Army lends Zapad additional, symbolic importance. The newly reassembled unit spearheaded the Red Army's march on Berlin in World War II and combines well-trained troops with modern, well-armored vehicles. Senior military officers, such as the commander of American troops in Europe, have offered their assurances that there is no cause for concern. “Look, we'll be ready; we'll be prepared,” Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges recently told The New York Times in reference to the deployment of 600 airborne troops in the Baltic countries.

But how well is the West really prepared for a military conflict with Russia? (end of excerpt)


Click here for the full story (with interactive graphs) on the FAZ website.

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