On 20-26 September, the active (military) phase of the strategic-level exercises held by the armed forces of Russia and Belarus, entitled ‘West 2013’, were held. This was the largest joint exercise both armies had ever carried out; including the ranges in the western part of Belarus, Kaliningrad and the Baltic Sea, over 22,000 soldiers took part in it. For the Russian army, ‘West 2013’ did not constitute a particular challenge, coming as it did as part of the larger series of exercises arranged in parallel in the Murmansk oblast and the Barents Sea. For the Belarusian army, however, this year’s joint exercises are the biggest undertaking in military training it has carried out for two decades. Above all, ‘West 2013’ was a test of the integration of the Belarusian and Russian armies, and particularly of the former’s ability to act within the norms and structures of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.
The scenario and nature of the ‘West 2013’ exercises leave no doubt that the Russian/Belarusian forces are training to conduct regular military operations, and their potential opponent is the NATO countries bordering with Russia and Belarus. In political terms, however, we can observe a certain duality in Russia’s approach to NATO. On the one hand – thanks to the information about the exercises reported in media – we see that Moscow is aiming to provoke a negative reaction from its western neighbours. But on the other – from its joint non-military exercises (the ‘Vigilant Sky 2013’ anti-terrorist exercises held in parallel with ‘West 2013’) – it has tried to allay NATO’s concerns regarding the objectives of Russia’s military policy towards Europe… (more)
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