Estonia to send observers to Zapad exercise

Estonia to send observers to Zapad exercise

Estonia to send observers to Zapad exercise

The main goal is to integrate the two countries' military headquarters in a realistic combat scenario.

ZAPAD 2017 has also sparked concerns among NATO's easternmost members that Russian forces may stay in the area following the conclusion of the exercise.

Russia and Belarus say the exercises, which last until September 20, will involve 5,500 Russian and 7,200 Belarusian troops.

The maneuvers involve up to 12,700 serviceman (about 7,200 from Belarus and about 5,500 from Russia), about 70 planes and helicopters, up to 680 military equipment units, including around 250 tanks, up to 200 weapons, multiple launch rocket systems and mortars and 10 ships.

Estonian Defense Minister Juri Liuk, however, says Moscow could deploy up to 100,000 troops.

While the Baltic nations fear the Zapad maneuvers may lead to a surprise Russian attack, the exercises have also been criticized by Belarusian opposition leaders.

The West 2017 drills, which will proceed until September 20, are purely defensive in nature and are not directed against any state or groups of states, the ministry statement said.

The operation was launched in April 2014 following the reunification of the Crimean Republic with Russian Federation following a referendum, which the United States and other Western countries refer to as an "annexation".

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"The security situation has taken a turn for the worse", Swedish armed forces chief Michael Biden said during the three-week exercise.

NATO's Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg earlier this month called on Russian Federation to "be fully transparent". "And I am sure that we will restore our relationship with NATO and we will return to the wonderful form of cooperation that is the Russia-NATO Council".

With NATO officials quoted as saying up to 100,000 troops will be involved in the "Zapad" (which means "West") exercise, it has prompted warnings on social media that Russian Federation "is mobilizing for war on a July 1914 scale".

But Russia's defense ministry is also running concurrent exercises in other regions, including Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea.

"The degree of mobilization is really impressive", Soloch said on private Radio Zet.

That many troops would make these war games among the biggest since the Soviet period, and the discrepancy in reports on the size has set off concerns among some about the drills' real goal and, in more alarmist quarters, even fears of invasion.

The head of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation accused Russian Federation earlier this month of blocking the alliance from properly observing the exercise, saying that an offer for three of its experts to observe the drill fell short of the Kremlin's global obligations under the Vienna document on military exercise transparency. President Petro Poroshenko has called it "a smokescreen" aimed at pre-positioning reinforcements ready for a new "invasion of Ukrainian territory".

"Nervous over the Russo-Belarus joint military exercise, Zapad-2017" which just started, neighbouring countries seems much perturbed.

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