Zapad 2017 and NATO’s Response
On September 20th, Zapad 2017, a joint Russian-Belarusian military drill, came to an end. It’s catalyst was an attack on Russian and Belarusian forces by the fictitious nation Veshnoryia. During the drill’s six-day span, Russia demonstrated advancements in close air-support to ground forces and an increased use of armored vehicles.
Notably, the drill involved Iskander-M, a Russian missile, which revealed improvements in the range of Russian missile capabilities. According to a news release by Tass, a prominent Russian news agency, the Iskander-M missile was launched at a firing range in the Astrakhan region of Russia and successfully hit a target 480 km away in Kazakhstan, exceeding US defense estimates. Improvements in range-capabilities are consistent with the 2017 report from the Defense Intelligence Agency on Russia’s military power; the reporter uncovered that “precision guided munitions such as ISANDER, KALIBR, or KH-101… [are Russian] priorities”.
A recent increase in US and NATO forces in Eastern Europe is correlated with Russia’s growing military capabilities and its public displays, most recently demonstrated in the Zapad maneuvers. NATO’s military build-up is the largest since the Cold War; the intergovernmental military alliance has made plans to increase its presence in the Black Sea to counterattack Russia’s attempts to reassert its hard and soft-power influence in the region.
NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg of Norway, noted that its member countries were “concerned by Russia’s military buildup close to our borders and its lack of transparency when it comes to military exercises such as Zapad 2017”.
While Zapad 2017 isn’t the singular determinant of increased Russian aggression, it is an event that is consistent with Russia’s broader strategy of strengthening its military presence and technological capabilities. Significantly, Zapad provides tangible and updated insight into Russia’s military modernization that allows US and NATO forces to respond and re-adjust accordingly.