Russia is readying this week for war games that Western security officials see as a muscular display of firepower prolonged NATO’s most vulnerable region the exercises will show off a military that has been transformed under President Vladimir Putin into an effective force that has deployed to Syria and Ukraine in recent years the official Thursday start Western observers say the deployment started weeks ago comes as relations with the West scrape all-time lows Moscow has insisted that the exercise rehearse is a strictly defensive scenario and involves no more than twelve thousand seven hundred troops just under the level that would require Russia to allow NATO observers under international agreements the chief of the Russian General Staff General Valery Gerasimov said last week that the war games were not aimed against any third country but senior Western government officials believe the real number of Russian military personnel involved could reach 100,000 and above the Baltic countries that would be on the front lines of a Western conflict with Russia shrug off any direct threat saying that the Kremlin has no reason to risk tangling with fresher NATO deployments this year that include significant US reinforcements but they also say that the week-long Zpad 2017 exercises intended to unsettle their societies and send a political message that Russia is as credible and dangerous a military power as it was during the Cold War at NATO headquarters in Brussels senior officials say that their intelligence services are closely monitoring Russia as it draws up its military alongside their borders they say that Moscow is unwillingness to open the exercises to observation raises the risk of unplanned conflict stemming from its understandings with more military activities along our borders in the air that land and at sea the risk for incidents accidents miscalculations is increasing NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said in an interview transparency is the best way to avoid those kinds of incidents accidents Russia annually holds wargames that rotate among the country’s military districts this year’s installment involves the Western forces which account for Russia’s frontier from the Kola Peninsula high above the Arctic Circle all the way south to Ukraine Moscow has repeatedly stated that it is being open about the purpose and size of the war games which simulate how to defend the northwest portion of Belarus from a domestic separatist insurrection fueled by support from abroad France Clint sivash a senior member of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Western refusal to believe that shows that the demonization of Russia continues but Western military officials say Russia has been hiding the true size and sweep of the war games the official part of which will play out in Belarus which borders NATO members Poland Lithuania and Latvia they say that the drills with Belarusian troops are merely the tip of a major mobilization of Moscow s upgraded and modernized military machine with separate but coordinated maneuvers involving paratroopers armored units railroad troops air and naval forces strategic forces security troops and units in the heavily armed exclave of Kaliningrad home to Russia’s Baltic Sea Fleet one element of the exercise may involve Russia’s first guards tank army a unit whose very existence is symbolic of the renewed tension is with the West Russia in 2014 reconstituted the army a formation whose soviet-era purpose was to smash through NATO’s lines in the event of war after disbanding it in 1998 despite the significance of the drills Western officials interviewed last week dismissed the idea that the games are any more than that we don’t see any imminent threat when it comes to any large-scale military operation against any European country now still 10 Burks in Latvia Foreign Minister at gathering Kovac said the country’s leaders are not panicking but are being cautious because what we are seeing is that the exercises are of an offensive nature they are exercising access in the earlier denial they are exercising against at least four NATO member states under the pretext that they are fighting separatists viewed from the Baltic nations the exercises reflect Putin’s oft-repeated stance that Russia is surrounded by a hostile and aggressive force in NATO and have two apparent goals one is to rehearse the capability to seal off Lithuania Latvia and Estonia and deny access to the Baltic Sea to NATO forces attempting to come to their rescue the other is a present a strategic challenge to US and NATO leaders by demonstrating the high cost of defending the Baltics thus sowing uncertainty about the viability of the Alliance we in Estonia already live in constant fear this is the predominant feeling in society fear if society feels threatened you can manipulate it said dmitry de perak chief executive of the International Centre for defence and security in Tallinn Estonia confidence in NATO took a hit in the Baltics after the election of President Donald Trump who repeatedly characterized the alliance as obsolete but the arrival early this year of four multinational NATO battalions one for each Baltic state and Poland helped steel nerves along with repeated visits from trump deputies who are more clearly committed to the alliance than the president during those APD exercises an additional company of US forces will be present in each Baltic country the presence that is symbolically important Tepper ik said the flag tells russia that if you have a problem with poland all a fooi mia you have to take it up with washington he said the campaign rhetoric was worrisome but actions have proven that America as a state and as a society was committed to the Alliance the Baltic countries as with NATO as a whole have learned their lesson since 2014 when Russia shocked the world with its Lightning annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula using little green men troops in uniforms without insignia said Janus Garrison’s state secretary of Latvia defense ministry he said Moscow might use the exercise to try out new cyberattacks or wrinkles in information warfare they’ve been very successful in deceiving us hybrid warfare is not about green men with a lack of insignia it is about giving us doubts Garrison’s said Russian information war wants to convince our population that our country is small and indefensible and that NATO won’t defend us ambassadors from NATO’s 29 countries will meet repeatedly in the coming days for updates about the exercises and the Alliance’s number two military commander is going to spend the next week Criss crossing the Baltics and Poland as the Russian activities get underway military planners say that they will be watching carefully to understand both Russia’s capabilities and its concerns NATO forces have kept watch over the preparations for the exercise but so far they have not raised major concerns the senior commander of the US air force in Europe said we have kept close tabs on those activities Air Force general todd walters told reporters in a briefing there is nothing extraordinary or out of the ordinary as we have witnessed up to this point but again we will continue to remain smart and vigilant you

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