Russia’s “Zapad”: What to Expect from It?

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Russia’s “Zapad”: What to Expect from It?

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Leaving behind the ghosts of the Cold War era, Europe now faces the challenges of a globalized world. Russia no longer poses a direct military threat to Europe, but its military capacity and goals are subject to debate in the region. Since 2008, Russia has been modernizing both its army and its nuclear capabilities and rising its Defense budget. Russia is still very much focused on the protection of its borders, triggering escalations with NATO.

Moscow, NATO and the OSCE

Every four years, Moscow organizes the “Zapad” drill (meaning ‘West’ in Russian), its largest training, worrying some European countries and mostly neighboring countries. For instance, Zapad 2009 and Zapad 2013 (which was estimated to 70,000 troops), took place in Belarus and the Western Military District of Russia. It is quite difficult to give a precise number of soldiers whom will be part of it. The Russian government affirmed that 12,700 military forces would be on the field this year. However, the number it has given is suspected to be unreliable by the OSCE. This year’s scenario is the following “Following seven days of “military operations”, the fictional country of “Veshnoriya”[…] was forced into submission by Russian and Belarusian joint forces. […] the “Union State” of Russia and Belarus destroyed the enemy after Veshnoriya tried to stage border incursions and massive air raid”

To better understand the harsh criticism that Moscow faces, let’s bear in mind the Vienna Document 2011 and its provisions on security-building measures (or CSBMs). Written to increase openness and transparency concerning military activities conducted inside the OSCE’s zone of application, one could wonder if Russia isn’t trying to bypass it indirectly. The document’s core provisions are various: information exchanges, on-site inspections, evaluation and observation visits, observation visits… All OSCE states have the responsibility to observe military activities exceeding one of the following threshold: 13,000 troops, 300 tanks, 500 ACVs, or 250 pieces of artillery. Hence, the number given by Moscow being under the level indicated by the OSCE, the country is avoiding any external observations of Zapad and ignoring the necessity of transparency.

NATO and the OSCE representatives underline the fact that Russia might be practicing new military strategies for the purpose of implementing it on future invasions. Those reactions are legitimate since Zapad 2013 drill techniques were used six months later on Eastern Ukraine ground.

Russia’s response to NATO’s fears

At the 2017 Annual Security Review Conference, Mr Alexander Grushko, permanent representative of the Russian Federation to NATO clearly exposed Russia’s views regarding the criticism which Zapad 2017 faced. He underlined that “The legacy of the Cold War – primarily mental and political – has not been overcome. Western countries have proved to be unwilling to co-operate on really equal terms with Russia in areas of common interest or to construct a genuinely inclusive European security architecture without dividing lines”. Hence, insinuating that Russia still feels that it is being treated differently despite its tireless efforts to join the European community in creating a stable and innovative security project. Grushko points out that the “skeletons” of the past seem still anchored in some Western countries’ beliefs towards Russia. Such as resentment from Russia could be seen as an unstable element which could either divide or slow possible security agreements.  Following this, Grushko strongly points out that Russia no longer needs to prove its will to be part of a peaceful Europe.

The necessity for a unified Europe is necessary, especially in such a complex security context. As tensions rise between Moscow and the Baltic countries, Russia needs to understand that its influence on those countries belong to the past and create a more opened dialogue, which could lead to new alliances, and lay down arms before engaging an arms race.

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