Analysts say Russia’s Zapad-17 has started

Parallel to the recent escalation in Ukraine, the army in Belarus has entered the mobilization of its armed forces and begun to erect fortifications. Additionally, a border zone has been set up with Russia at critical sections. It also has been reported that coordination for the deployment of Russian paratroopers is going on.

As has been stated earlier, Russia is planning to transfer its 1st Guards Tank Army for “field” tests to western Belarus, the official date had been given with September 2017. In regard to recent Russian war tactics it has to be kept in mind that Russian regular units always have been used as back-up forces – after the adversary already had been weakened by “hybrid” forces.

Previous “Zapad”-exercises were directed to Scandinavia, the Baltic states and Poland (see for example here for a discussion of Zapad-2013). Edward Lucas wrote in  June 2015: “A snap drill in Kaliningrad in December caught NATO completely by surprise. Much larger exercises inMarch, involving probably 33,000 troops, took place in response to a notional Western attempt to create a ‘Maidan’ uprising in Moscow. The scenario included the speedy seizure of northern Norway,the Åland islands (demilitarized Finnish territory, populated by Swedish-speakers), the Swedish island of Gotland and the Danish island of Bornholm. If carried out successfully, control of those territorieswould make it all but impossible for NATO allies to reinforce the Baltic states.”

Additionally, there has been information on possible “Maidan”-like protests in Minsk.

Updates:

As of mid-February 2017 the situation can be described as a larger military mobilization – both in Russia and Belarus. The mobilization in Belarus has been officially sold as having the purpose of territorial defense. But it has to be reminded here that Belarus can be considered an “extension” of the Russian western military district given the Russian influences (some have claimed the majority of officers was feeling they would belong to Russia; also the higher command of the army has a Russian background).

As of 8 February Russian railway units (officially Smolensk and Rjazan) have been alerted; also the Russian long-range military transport aircraft (i.e. paratrooper transport) has been checked.

As of 14 February the mobilization in the Russian western military district includes fuel supply transports, reserve call-ups, naval bases, artillery units (according to official reports 10.000 men with 2000 units of equipment, including “Iskander”-units), paratrooper checks etc – the total number of mobilized in this region can be around 100.000 men – see here for updates.

As of 1 March there are again combined paratrooper exercises near the border of Estonia (Pskov Oblast, officially around a thousand men from Russia and Belarus). Also, coodination meetings have been taking place in Sochi (under the cover of military winter games last week; Lukashenka also participating). Near St. Petersburg, ground helicopter crew tests have started, plus Minsk saw a “rehearsal” for the police day (while Russian speznaz/paratroopers had been reported to have been present in the city in order to organize upcoming “exercises”).

The drills in Belarus were to continue in the first week of March, including reservists. Plus, Russia not only tested paratroopers from Belarus and Russia (according to official reports some 600 men and three military vehicles “jumped” in a coordinated move). Additionally, some dozen ships went out to the Baltic Sea for an artillery test (and later returned to Kaliningrad); while other artillery units trained at Luga (some 50km east of the border with Estonia).

As of mid-March it can be stated that the last weeks have seen massive airborne training (Orenburg, Rjazan and other locations). As of now, some paratroopers are already on the move (e.g. Pskov units officially to Dzankoj at the administrative border with Crimea). Also it had been officially stated that paratroopers from Tula are expected western Belarus in the next few weeks (or days). It can be suggested that other units are moving as well.

Moreover, there have been reports in the last days that suggested the presence of Russian speznaz at the recent protest locations in Belarus.

Finland in the last weeks has speeded up training against hybrid scenarios of Russian warfare – Russia for its part this week will be massively present with its airforce (officially more than 50 teams of its tactical aviation) some hundred km from the Finnish border.

Update 21 March: Lukashenka echos the Moscow-line (as suspected) and claims that armed “militants” had been arrested, supported by Lithuania and Poland; also blaming Ukraine of training them militarily. In the meantime, Ukraine has stepped up security at its border with Belarus.

Activities in and around Kaliningrad continue to be high, an usual number of US reconaissance flights taking place in the last two weeks. On 20 March, the Swedish parliament had an evacuation (war) exercise, the first since 1997.

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Europe will be surprised again

As Russia has started another round of artillery warfare in the Ukrainian Donbas on 29  January 2017 with more destruction and death in Ukraine, the reactions in Europe and the US only support Russian falcons ready for more warfare in other European countries.

First, there is no significant political reaction from Germany– now considered the de facto leader of the EU after the Brexit. In particular, there has been no official statement from the foreign ministry one week after the Russian occupation army started actions, deliberately targeting infrastructure (cutting energy/water supply) and civilian housings (destroying/damaging a few hundred houses).  Also the new US president has shown that his teams has “bigger” plans, all actions underlining the US will side with Russia against China; leaving Europe to deal with its problems alone.

Second, EU-elites continue to ignore and downplay Russian attacks on their countries. This mainly concerns cyberwarfe – only this week, the Czech Republic, Poland, the Netherlands and Norway claimed larger Russian attacks. The problem has been recognized quite some time ago, but European politicians see only the problem of elections being “hacked” (as it endangers their power). They also still pretend that single Islamist attacks pose a greater threat than a Russian cyberattack with the potential to destroy power stations, crash banking transactions or telecommunications (besides there also remains the possibly of a false flag “terrorist” attack orchestrated by Russian intelligence agencies and befriended services). At this point it has to be stated clearly: The European establishment is trading European peace for their convenience, cowardice and personal interests.

Third, “ordinary” citizens grasp that their representatives are absorbed with their personal affairs and increasingly turn to “alternatives” – open to serve Russian interests. They would not if they would not take peace for granted: Either they do not realize that they have no means to defend themselves against an organized and determined enemy, a well percentage does not feel like defending even if being attacked.  Just a few days ago it was announced that even Finnish reservists were trying to switch to civilian service. Also the British army complained recruitment could not be taken for granted. Both will be front-line states in case of enhanced Russian aggressions.

Fourth, three years after Russia distrupted the post-war order in Europe, European decision-makers still ignore the lessons Ukraine has to offer in regard to Russia (disinformation/propaganda, corrupting politicians/businessmen, cyberwarfare etc.). The Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia also could offer a nice lesson to ordinary citizens not willing to defend their values and living standards.

 

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Moldova has to expect trouble

Besides of the Balkans (Russians also spying on Albanian military facilities as it has been communicated; see also the post underneath) – former parts of the Soviet Union remain a focus of Russian expansionist policy.

With the election of a “Russian” president in Moldova and according consultations in Moscow the question now is mainly when he will “invite” Russian troops to his country.

This makes sense, as the picture is increasingly such that Russia will try to “encircle” Ukraine due to the strategic depth of Ukraine and the realities on the ground. Russia has missed several windows of opportunities, and now does not have the strength to just “overrun” Ukraine, and therefore is building up forces in certain areas from which it later could strike in a coordinated move.

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Russia disrupting the world order

– faster than any western media or mainstream politican is able to react.

Just take the first two weeks of 2017:

Together with President-elect Trump there has been a serious move against Chinese expansionist politics and implicit global aspirations of China

Russia has moved against the democratic government in Libya (Tripolis), sending a message it will support its enemies

Russia, together with Serbia, have moved against the whole Albanian world in staging a provocation against northern Kosova (in sending a propaganda train which was stopped at the border) – prompting President Thaci to warn of a Crimea-style occupation of the Serbian-populated part of northern Kosova.

Those are all regions, Russia claims to have “interests”.

Four days before the inauguration of Trump, provocations in two very important regions of “Russian interest” are lacking:

a serious provocation against Ukraine (even if the use of heavy artillery and attacks on Ukrainian positions have increased lately).

a bigger provocation in the Baltic region.

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Denmark warns of Russian attacks on infrastructure

“State-supported Russian hacker groups are ready to attack hospitals, infrastructure and the electrical supply by breaking into computer systems and creating a mess of notices and treatments within the health system” – so the Danish Defense Minister Frederiksen.

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Canada ignores Russian military build-up in the Arctic

Just after another demonstrative Russian paratrooper exercise near the North Pole, Canadian media discuss the weak response of their government (and NATO) towards the Russian military build-up in the Artic region (see blow for operationable Russian military bases and a map).

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More propaganda on bombing Ukraine

Rostislav Ishchenko – who also has pushed the idea that Russia should occupy the Baltic states – this week had a chance to present his current views on Ukraine on Russian TV, finding Russian ground forces would suffer significantly if  they decided to go for Ukrainian cities. Other participants of the “Evening with (propagandist) Vladimir Solovyev” proposed to take Aleppo as an example (see here, or here in English).

There are a few points such “discussions” do not consider (and suggest the public might be lured into an adventure against Ukraine). Those points are for example that Russia will not fight “terrorists”, but a regular army and possible effective weapons against Russian aircraft – such as the infamous Buk-missiles – or the fact that Ukrainians have defended attacked targets stubbornly (e.g. the Donetsk airport).

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