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Kremlin accuses West of "whipping up hysteria" over Russian war games
15 September 2017, 12:40 | Colleen Roy
In a recent speech Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko claims Russia's upcoming Zapad 2017 war games will be the prelude to a major war
The Russian Foreign Ministry has said that the "artificial hype" about the maneuvers is aimed at "justifying the spending on NATO's military buildup on Poland and the Baltic states in the eyes of the western audience".
Belarus and Russian defence officials say the Zapad drill will involve troops from the Kola Peninsula, near Finland, and range down to Kaliningrad.
Code-named Zapad or "West", NATO officials say the drills will simulate a conflict with the USA -led alliance meant to show Russia's ability to mass large numbers of troops at very short notice in the event of a conflict. The Ministry of Defence does not have information regarding the extent of the access that observers will have to the drills.
'We can't be totally calm. Ben Hodges, have raised concerns that Russia might use the drills as a "Trojan horse" to make incursions into Poland and Russian-speaking regions in the Baltics.
The Kremlin firmly rejects any such plans. And Russian officials say no more than 13,000 troops will be involved in the drills - to which NATO observers have been invited in accordance with worldwide treaties.
Belarusian and Russian military administrative bodies and military units will drill joint actions to improve interoperability and ensure comprehensive security in order to accomplish the assigned missions as part of the regional military force.
Neutral Sweden, the biggest war exercise in 20 years with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation support, with 19,000 troops, after years of spending cuts that left the country, began to worry about Russia's growing military strength.
'It is all smoke and mirrors, ' the official said, adding that the Soviet-era Zapad exercises that were revived in 1999 had included simulated nuclear strikes on Europe.
The US has assumed command of airspace over the Baltic countries as a precaution and Ukraine has put its armed forces on alert.
For some, that sounds uncomfortably like rehearsing a pretext for NATO's nightmare scenario, a Russian tank rush into the Baltic States.
"It is a provocative place, and a provocative size, but I think we all understand that militaries are going to conduct military exercises", Kurt Volker, the USA envoy on the Ukraine conflict told BBC Radio on Thursday.
For its part, the USA and its allies have boosted force levels around the Baltics and Poland in the past year in an effort to reinforce defenses in the region.
During Zapad, NATO is taking a low-key approach by running few exercises, including an annual sniper exercise in Lithuania.
NATO, however, believes - without evidence - that more troops will be involved.
"The security situation has taken a turn for the worse", Micael Byden, the commander of the Swedish Armed Forces, said during a presentation of the three-week-long exercise.
And despite assurances from Minsk and Moscow, leaders in Poland, the Baltic states, Slovakia, Romania, the Ukraine and Bulgaria are concerned Russian Federation might not pull back all of its soldiers after the drills.
"We have seen before that Russian Federation has used big military exercises as a disguise or a precursor for aggressive military actions against their neighbours", Stoltenberg said.
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