Zapad 2017: NATO Should Be Keeping an Eye on Russia's Training Exercises

Zapad 2017: NATO Should Be Keeping an Eye on Russia's Training Exercises

Russia has a long history of using military exercises as a platform for waging actual wars.

Russian military exercises have become a dangerous tool, which can be used both politically and militarily. The train-as-you-fight approach—especially when the nuclear strike options are a key element of the drills—poses a serious threat to the West. Not only must we be militarily prepared to respond, but also we must be able to send clear unambiguous messages of unity, cohesion and readiness. As long as Zapad 2017–style exercises are a tool of coercion, regional stability cannot be taken for granted.

All in all, Russia needs to receive an unequivocal message that the West is ready to engage in various trust- and confidence-building measures, but at the same time we must verify Russia’s actions. Efforts to build reciprocal trust should be undoubtedly made, but it does not come immediately.

Finally, Russia also needs to understand that if it messes with the alliance, then such action would come at a significant cost. NATO allies should make this signal clear, and leave no room for doubt.

Col. Tomasz K. Kowalik, PhD, is the director of the Military Foreign Affairs Department at the Polish Ministry of National Defence. Dominik P. Jankowski is the head of OSCE and Eastern Security Unit at the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the institutions they represent.

Image: The final stage of the Zapad-2013 Russian-Belarusian strategic military exercises.