Next month, Russia will conduct its quadrennial military exercise centered on the readiness and combat capabilities of its Western Military District. Zapad 2021 will take place in Belarus and include forces from Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. As is generally the case when a Zapad exercise rolls around, there is growing concern and angst among Russia’s neighbors right now. In light of Russia’s mobilization of troops and equipment along the Ukrainian border back in March and April, the concern is reasonable. The troops eventually departed from the staging areas near the border, but the equipment remained. Under prime conditions it will be easy for the officers and troops from those units to redeploy from their installations around Russia, marry-up with their equipment and move to the border. In the eyes of many Western military analysts (professional and otherwise) a major exercise like Zapad could provide Russia with the cover needed to undertake such a move.
In all candor though, alarm and dire predictions over the exercise spring up like weeds every four years when Zapad exercises approach. This goes back to the late 70s and early 80s at the height of the Cold War when NATO warily monitored the movement of so many troops, tanks and aircraft into Poland and East Germany. Back then, what appeared to be an exercise could of very well been the prelude to a Soviet/Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe. Those fears were never realized. If they had, we probably would not be here right now, truthfully. Now in 2021, outside concerns are more varied and contingent on the respective vantage points of nation-states and supranational organizations.
As we move closer to September, this will be touched on regularly.