Country Risk

Russia to use "Zapad-2017" exercise to intimidate its neighbours but permanent military basing in Belarus unlikely

07 September 2017
Russian Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin and Russia's Defence Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov attend the briefing prior to Zapad-2017 in the Russian Defence Ministry headquarters in Moscow on 19 August 2017. Source: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images #840463382

Key Points

  • IHS Markit assesses that a key political objective of Zapad-2017 is for Russia to intimidate its eastern European neighbours with a display of its upgraded military capabilities.
  • Russia is unlikely to use the exercise to mask the establishment of a permanent military presence in Belarus, and the location of ground forces' exercise activity is unlikely to result in border incidents on Belarus' borders with NATO member states or Ukraine.
  • Russia is, however, likely to use aircraft deployments close to its neighbours' airspace to exercise to communicate its message of the extent of Russian military reach.


On 5 September 2017, Russian Defence Minister Andrey Raukou dismissed international media reports criticising the planned Zapad-2017 (West-2017) Russo-Belarusian military exercise, for which he claimed exercise planning had begun in 2009.

Zapad-2017 is a joint strategic exercise by the Russian and Belarusian armed forces, planned for 14–20 September 2017. It will take place in Belarus and parts of the Western Military District of Russia, including Leningrad, Pskov, Novgorod and Smolensk regions, as well as in Kaliningrad region, the Russian exclave on the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania.

According to Russian official statements, the exercise will involve a total of 12,700 Russian and Belarusian military personnel, 370 armoured vehicles (including 200 tanks), 250 artillery units, and over 70 aircraft. The number of troops is below the threshold of 13,000 which under OSCE rules would require mandatory formal notification and invitation of observers. Some Western analysts, and Baltic State governments, who cited unspecified intelligence, have expressed concerns that the exercise will in reality be significantly larger, involving between 60,000 and 100,000 military personnel; however, no evidence to support this estimate has been made public. According to the Baltic States, the last Zapad-series exercise in 2013 involved 75,000 military personnel, six times higher than Russia disclosed.

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