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The Other Russian Military Exercises of Fall 2017 (You May Never Have Heard Of)

Western observers fixated on Russia’s Zapad-2017 exercise throughout the fall of 2017. This despite the fact, as I noted immediately after the exercise, that there were notable Western exercises of similar or even larger size going on at the same time in Poland and Sweden. At the end of Zapad, there was some debate over how large the exercise was, as the Russians went home in defiance of some predictions. At the beginning of October, U.S. Army Europe commander Gen. Ben Hodges officially accused Russia of employing over forty thousand soldiers in Zapad-2017, and then the story disappeared from the news.

With Russia and Belarus standing by the story that only 12,700 total servicemen participated in Zapad-2017 (and resentful of Western “information attacks” against them), how did Hodges come out with forty thousand soldiers?

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The answer is that in September 2017, a large exercise called Zapad-2017 took place in Belarus and western Russia—but this was just one element in the expanded Zapad universe. That month, the Russian Ministry of Defense reported at least 261 military exercises across the country (324, if you include the Russian National Guard). Many, though not all, of these exercises took place at the same time and in the same scenario as Zapad-2017, and combined they raise the total number of participants to around forty thousand.

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So what were these other exercises in the “expanded Zapad universe”? A new report out on warvspeace.org details the breakdown of the various types of exercises going on at this time.

Whereas the Zapad-2017 exercise itself restricted itself to units from Russia’s Western Military District and central reserve, the other exercises going on at the same time on the same script extended all the way from the Barents Sea on the Scandinavian High North to Crimea to the North Caucasus to the Caspian Sea. In fact, there were exercises in Kaliningrad, at the epicenter of Zapad-2017, that were not officially affiliated with the flagship exercise. Late summer is exercise season in the Russian Federation, and places as far afield as Tajikistan, Siberia and Sakhalin in the Far East also saw exercises, though these more likely were distinct from the Zapad narrative.

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