Russia is planning a military exercise involving 100,000 soldiers after NATO simulated a mock defense from an invasion through the Baltic's
(VERO BEACH, FL) The upcoming drill, which has been held jointly with Belarus every four years starting in 1973, will begin in September and is nicknamed Exercise Zapad 2017.
During the 9th edition of this joint military exercise, a defense will be simulated by the Russian high command to repel a mock invasion of Belarus by NATO.
Historically the drill has involved a scenario where a full-scale conflict between the West and Russia has broken out, and previous iterations have even included simulated nuclear responses on European cities.
Ahead of this drill, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, Commander of all U.S. Army units in Europe (USAEUR), announced Friday that an additional 600 troops will be deployed across the Baltic States for the duration of Zagad 2017, bringing the number of NATO forces currently in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland to approximately 5,100.
Hodges told Reuters that the Pentagon is worried about possible Russian aggression during the Zapad exercise.
"When (Russia) went into Crimea, that was against the backdrop of an exercise. When they went into Georgia, that was an exercise", Lt. Gen. Hodges said during a NATO exercise in Poland. "Their history is full of examples where they don't live up to any treaties ... They routinely violate those things.”
"We are all working hard to be at the highest levels of readiness during exercises like this,” Lt. Gen. Hodges said.
The exercise Lt. Gen. Hodges was in attendance for in Poland was part of a series of NATO operations including Saber Strike and Baltic Operations (BALTOPS), which run throughout June, and are aimed at deterring the alleged “Russian Threat.”
BALTOPS involves 55 aircraft, 50 ships and submarines, and 4000 troops from 14 different nations.
In Poland, the USAEUR commander was personally overseeing the Suwalki Gap exercise, which involved 1,500 U.S. and British troops simulating the defense of the strategically significant Suwalki Gap from a Russian invasion.
The Suwalki Gap is a 64 mile block of farm, wooded, and low-hill land on the border between Poland and Lithuania and touches the territorial lines of Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave.
A Russian seizure of the Suwalki Gap would effectively cut off Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania from the rest of Western Europe, meaning the regions defense is crucial to NATO’s mission to protect the Baltic’s.
“The gap is vulnerable because of the geography,” Lt. Gen. Hodges told Reuters. “It's not inevitable that there's going to be an attack, of course, but ... if that was closed, then you have three allies that are north that are potentially isolated from the rest of the alliance.”
B-1B and B-52 bombers are included in the U.S. aircraft deployment roster for BALTOPS 2017, and according to Daily Signal correspondent Nolan Peterson, who has been embedded with the U.S. Air Force for the duration of the exercise, the Russians are keeping a close eye on these iconic bombers capable of carrying nuclear weaponry.
While onboard a U.S. Air Force KC-135 aerial refueling tanker on June 9th, Peterson witnessed two Russian Su-27 flanker fighter jets intercept a 10-plane NATO formation compromised of two U.S. Air Force B-1B bombers, one USAF B-52H bomber, two German Eurofighter Typhoon fighters, two Polish F-16 fighters, two U.S. Air Force F-16s, and a U.S. Navy P-8 surveillance aircraft.
“It’s a game,” Air Force Lt. Col. Kristofer Padilla, commander of 52nd Operations Group Detachment 1, told The Daily Signal afterward the incident, which occured in inside international airspace. “They [the Russians] broke no rules.”
Aside from BALTOPS, which began annually in 1972, and the Saber Strike exercises, NATO is also conducting Iron Wolf 2017, which is a 10-day joint military exercise currently being held in Lithuania involving 5,000 troops from nine different nations.
Russia has repeatedly denied the existence of any plans to attack the Baltic States, and denounced NATO’s military buildup along its borders as a threat to national security.
In February, Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed NATO for provoking a conflict with Moscow and using its “newly-declared official mission to deter Russia” as a pretext.
Also in February, while speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that “NATO's expansion has led to an unprecedented level of tension over the last 30 years in Europe.”