Estonia and NATO are closely monitoring preparations for Zapad, the joint exercise between Russia and Belarus, and expect both countries to adhere to the letter and spirit of international agreements.
“Zapad is a joint exercise between Russia and Belarus where we are hoping to see greater transparency and the observance of international agreements both prior to and during the exercise”, commented Minister of Defence Luik.
Russia has only introduced the exercise in the NATO-Russia Council, where it was announced that a total of 7000 servicemen from Belarus and 5200 from Russia would be taking part in the exercise taking place from 14–20 September.
“Taking into consideration the experience and scale of other strategic level exercises organised by Russia, Zapad 2017 – and the supplementary exercises taking place in parallel – will be based on offensive scenarios against NATO, in which up to 100,000 Russian soldiers and officers may take part. This number is significantly greater than what is being officially reported,” added Minister of Defence Luik.
Russia will introduce the Zapad exercise at the Luga training ground on 18-19 September only to the Defence Attachés accredited to Moscow. No official invitations to observe the exercise have been extended to the Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE).
Belarus has formally notified the OSCE that Zapad will take place on its territory from 14–20 September. In addition, within the framework of the Vienna Document, Belarus has on a voluntary basis extended invitations to two observes from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Ukraine and Sweden, to take part in the observation programme from 16–20 September. Estonia has accepted the invitation from Belarus. In addition, the Estonian Defence Attaché will be participating in a Zapad-related programme organised by the Belarusian Ministry of Defence on 19–21 September.
According to official information, 7090 members of the Belarusian and 3106 members of the Russian armed forces will be participating in exercise Zapad on the territory of Belarus. No official information has been communicated about the events taking place on Russian territory.
In previous years, NATO has repeatedly identified instances of splitting up of military exercises by Russia, as well as non-reporting and underreporting.
In addition, Russia regularly conducts large-scale snap exercises, which according to international rules are exceptions to the requirement for prior notification.
In accordance with the Vienna Document, all participating states of the Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe, including Russia and Belarus, must invite observers to exercises with more than 13,000 participants. In addition, exercises involving more than 9000 members of the armed forces must be announced at least 42 days prior to the start of the exercise.