The official phase of “Zapad-2017” – one of the biggest Russian-Belarusian military exercises in 2017 – is over. This exercise has been analysed by security pundits for months and indeed may have generated more international interest than any previous Russian exercise since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In fact, there was much speculation about how this exercise will change the regional dynamics and security situation. The aim of this article is to put “Zapad-2017” into a larger strategic perspective. How do the Russian armed forces train and what is the purpose of these drills? What has changed since the previous “Zapad” exercise which took place in 2013? What is there to watch during major Russian military exercises such as “Zapad-2017”?
There are ten critical elements that should be taken into consideration when assessing the Russian military exercises, and more broadly the Russian posture of force.