The commander of the Estonian Defence Forces has claimed that Russian war games held last September “simulated a large-scale military attack against NATO”.
General Riho Terras confirmed NATO’s fears that the Zapad (or “West”) exercises were used to simulate a conflict with the US-led alliance and show off Russia’s ability to deploy large numbers of troops at extremely short notice in the event of a conflict.
The drills – which were held in Belarus, the Baltic Sea, western Russia and its Kaliningrad outpost between 14 and 20 September last year – depicted a fictional scenario concerned with attacks by militants, according to Russia’s defence ministry.
But in an interview with German newspaper, Bild, Mr Terras said: “Let me be clear: with the exercise Zapad 2017, Russia simulated a large-scale military attack against NATO.
He added: “The scale and extent of the entire exercise was far greater than officially stated.”
Instead of being a “purely defensive” exercise, as Russia claimed, Zapad was used to simulate a “full-scale conventional war against Nato in Europe”, the newspaper previously reported, citing two analysts from a western intelligence service.
The report claimed the drills involved far more troops than the 12,700 that Russia’s defence ministry claimed took part.
Under the Vienna document, a Cold War-era treaty that sets out rules for military exercises, war games numbering more than 13,000 troops should be open to observers who can fly over the drills and talk to soldiers.
The Kremlin said it had provided exhaustive information on the exercises before they were held to the military attaches of all interested countries and allowed their observers to attend the event to allay any concerns.
But at the time of the drills analysts have refuted this claim, saying that there was ‘not a single observer’ – just ‘invited guests’ from NATO members who were allowed to watch some of the exercises. They were not given access to all of the units that took part.