First Casualty in Russian War Games is Truth

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Defense and military experts from around the world have been anxiously watching the preparation phase for the mid-September Zapad 17 exercise in Belarus, the Baltic Sea, western Russia, and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, essentially a war rehearsal. Russia is expected to mobilize nearly 100,000 troops and showcase some newly developed shiny objects, a tangible step stemming from Russia’s Defense Modernization Plan for 2011-2020.

Russia still claims that the number of participating troops will not exceed the threshold of what is allowed under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Vienna Document without international observers, staying below 13,000 troops. It’s just that these troops will coincide or overlap with other exercises and training drills that may not be formally identified as part of Zapad 17, the Russians say. This fake number of troops means Moscow does not have to invite international observers, which stands in contrast to the NATO practice of inviting Russian observers to exercises, like with the recent Saber Guardian 17 drills in Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary, which had 25,000 troops, including 14,000 U.S. soldiers. However, Belarus has announced some observers will be invited. How many and what they will be able to observe are unclear.

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