In its biggest military exercise in four years, Russia is conducting war games on Nato’s eastern flank – and testing the West, according to UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.
“This is designed to provoke us, it’s designed to test our defences, and that’s why we have to be strong,” Fallon told the BBC on September 10. “Russia is testing us and testing us now at every opportunity. We’re seeing a more aggressive Russia. We have to deal with that.”
As reported by Bloomberg, while Fallon said that more than 100,000 Russian and Belorussian troops are at the borders of Nato members, Russian Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin said last month that the so-called Zapad 2017 exercise September 14-20 involves 13,000 troops, and that the drills are “purely of a defensive nature”.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its involvement in eastern Ukraine have strained ties with the US and Europe, which are concerned about the scale of the military buildup in advance of the war games.
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told the BBC on September 10 that Russia should allow western monitors to access the proceedings, in line with rules that require international observation of all exercises involving more than 13,000 troops.
“We have seen before that Russia has used big military exercises as a disguise or a precursor for aggressive military actions against their neighbours,” Stoltenberg said. “That happened in Georgia in 2008 when they invaded Georgia, and it happened in Crimea in 2014 when they illegally annexed Crimea. So, we call on Russia to be fully transparent.”
Russia has a history of “under-reporting” the number of troops in its exercises and “using loopholes in international agreements to avoid international observation,” he said.
Both Stoltenberg and Fallon also warned of the dangers of the escalating situation in North Korea, which has persisted in testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in defiance of UN resolutions seeking to shut down the programme.