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24-Oct-2017 11:32

The political intent was to continue a conversation Moscow has been having with the United States since Zapad-1999, and maintain coercive credibility in a potential conflict with NATO over Belarus, or elsewhere on Russia’s periphery.The consistent message has been that Russia has the capability and resolve to deploy forces into the region, mount an effective defense against Western superiority in airpower, and conduct offensive strikes to compel NATO to terminate hostilities.One the whole, this demonstration of traditional conventional military power was complemented by improvements in organization, an emphasis on support units, command and control of combined arms operations and a show of willingness to sustain the fight across all of Russia’s Military Districts.Zapad 2017 was less an exercise of brutish intimidation: Russia had far more military power available than was on display.On the whole, perhaps around 45,000 troops took place in Zapad, with maybe half that number in the Baltic and Arctic region and the rest in Southern and Central Military Districts.

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In this regard it was not dissimilar to Zapad 2013 (the exercises rotate between four strategic directions making Zapad a quadrennial event).Throughout the exercise Russian forces drilled in complex scenarios, working to keep NATO out of Russian airspace, maneuvering ground formations under fire, covering unit movements from observation, and deploying naval forces to deny access to Russian maritime approaches.Zapad 2017 showed off traditional Russian strengths: massed firepower, armor, mechanized infantry, and effective integration of layered air defenses.Thus it should come as no surprise that none of these premonitions came true.Somewhat surprisingly, Zapad 2017 was perhaps one of Russia’s more modest annual strategic exercises to date, though that should in no way undersell its significance.

In this regard it was not dissimilar to Zapad 2013 (the exercises rotate between four strategic directions making Zapad a quadrennial event).Throughout the exercise Russian forces drilled in complex scenarios, working to keep NATO out of Russian airspace, maneuvering ground formations under fire, covering unit movements from observation, and deploying naval forces to deny access to Russian maritime approaches.Zapad 2017 showed off traditional Russian strengths: massed firepower, armor, mechanized infantry, and effective integration of layered air defenses.Thus it should come as no surprise that none of these premonitions came true.Somewhat surprisingly, Zapad 2017 was perhaps one of Russia’s more modest annual strategic exercises to date, though that should in no way undersell its significance.On the contrary, Zapad 2017 was decidedly much smaller than expected, and loud pronouncements in media outlets anticipating something on the order of 100,000 troops went unfulfilled.