Planned Russian drills near Nato allies sign of intimidation

MOSCOW • Russia is preparing to send as many as 100,000 troops to the eastern edge of Nato territory at the end of the summer, one of the biggest steps yet in the military build-up undertaken by President Vladimir Putin and an exercise in intimidation that recalls the most ominous days of the Cold War.

The troops are conducting military manoeuvres known as Zapad (Russian for "west") in Belarus, the Baltic Sea, western Russia and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

The drills represent the first time since the Soviet Union's collapse that so much offensive power has been concentrated in an exercise.

The military manoeuvres, in the works for many months, are not a reaction to sweeping new economic sanctions on Russia that the United States Congress passed last week.

So far, Russia has retaliated against the sanctions by forcing the expulsion of several hundred employees at US diplomatic posts across the country.

But the move is part of a larger effort by Mr Putin to shore up Russia's military prowess and comes against the backdrop of an increasingly assertive Russia.

... the move is part of a larger effort by Mr Putin to shore up Russia's military prowess and comes against the backdrop of an increasingly assertive Russia.

Beyond Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential election in support of the Trump campaign, which has seized attention in the US, its military has in recent years deployed forces to Syria, seized Crimea and intervened in eastern Ukraine, rattled the Baltic States with snap exercises, and buzzed Nato planes and ships.

Punishing sanctions by the US and European allies that have isolated Russia further have done nothing to stop Mr Putin's sabre-rattling, as illustrated by the long- scheduled Zapad exercise.

Even more worrying, top US military officers say, is that the manoeuvres could be used as a pretext to increase Russia's military presence in Belarus, a central European nation that borders three critical Nato allies - Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

Retired one-star army general Peter Zwack, who was the US defence attache in Moscow from 2012 to 2014, said: "First and foremost, the messaging is, 'We're watching you. We're strong. We've learnt a lot. Don't mess with Russia'."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2017, with the headline 'Planned Russian drills near Nato allies sign of intimidation'. Print Edition | Subscribe