Image Russia began its newest round of war games, “Zapad-2017” (the Russian word for “West”), on Thursday.

Zapad 2017 kicks off as Russia’s “West” war games challenge NATO

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Russia began its newest round of war games, “Zapad-2017” (the Russian word for “West”), on Thursday. According to Russian officials the exercise will involve 13,000 troops, but some NATO representatives assert that Russia will be using over 100,000 troops. Either way, Zapad-2017 will be Russia’s largest military practice since similar exercises were held in 2013.

The Zapad-2017 drills are expected to continue until September 20th, and will take place in western Russia, Belarus, the Baltic Sea, and Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave.

[Source: Defense ministries of Russia and Belarus]
Western officials, such as Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the head of the US Army in Europe, have stated that the drills could be a potential “Trojan horse” in order to set up for future incursions into Poland and neighboring Baltic states.

Moscow rejects these implications, maintaining that the 13,000 troops are harmless. An exercise of 13,000 troops is below the threshold that would require international observers, and according to Moscow, the exercises being practiced are defensive rather than offensive, simulating an attack from the Baltic sea.

Russian citizens watching a flyover by some of Russia’s new SU-57 advanced stealth fighter jets. [Russian Military Archives]
During past war exercises in 2013, Moscow had reported that 12,000 troops were practicing off the country’s eastern coast, but foreign analysts estimated that there were between 70,000 and 90,000 troops present. During those exercises the Russian military tested new technology, such as scouting drones, which were later used in Crimea, eastern Ukraine and Syria. According to NATO, Russia’s 2013 exercise finished with a mock nuclear strike on Sweden.

While Russia is launching Zapad-2017, Sweden is also beginning its own round of war games with 19,000 troops, which will be the Baltic nation’s largest in two decades. Sweden is not a member of the NATO alliance, but these games are supported by NATO member countries, who are fearful of a militarized Russia. Around 1,500 troops from the NATO alliance are also taking part in this exercise. The three week exercise, dubbed “Aurora 17,” will simulate an attack from eastern Europe, and will take place on the Baltic island of Gotland.

The last time Sweden fought on home soil was more than two centuries ago, in 1809. Its enemy then was Russia [Amel Emric/The Associated Press]
“The security situation has taken a turn for the worse,” said Micael Byden, the Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces, while presenting the upcoming war exercise. Earlier this year, Sweden decided to reinforce its military by re-introducing an involuntary draft, and its Parliament has already raised the defense budget by 10.2 billion kronor ($1.2 billion USD) between 2016 and 2020. By taking these steps, Sweden is preparing for any potential conflict with its Russian neighbor.

However, since the end of the Cold War, Sweden has cut back on its military expenditures significantly, from 2.5% of its GDP in 1985 to barely 1% in 2015. If Sweden wanted to reach the same level of security that it had in 1999, the Baltic nation would have to keep increasing its military budget by an additional 40 billion kronor (around $4.6 billion USD) by 2020, according to the Gatestone Institute, an international policy think tank. Getting its military back to its former self will most likely take longer than that.

LIMA CHARLIE NEWS, with Diego Lynch

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