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Zapad: a Russian exercise that does not scare Estonians

(B2 in Tallinn) The Zapad exercise organized by the Russians and Belarusians in Belarus from September 14 to 20 should only bring together 13.000 men (according to the Russians), 100.000 according to the Lithuanians… and the Estonians. A demonstration of force which is not new in itself.

An exercise not new and often designed in an aggressive mode

The Zapad exercise is an old Soviet army exercise. In the past, during the Cold War, it already brought together more than 100.000 men up to 150.000 men. After a time of interruption, it was resumed in 1999 (Putin became Prime Minister). And its objective is already as much political (with respect to the countries of the Atlantic Alliance) as military (to qualify or, conversely, trigger new concepts). The exercise organized in 1999, for example, led Russia to adopt a new security concept (in 2000). The theme often related to NATO…

An exercise turned towards/against the West

The Zapad 2009 exercise, ten years later, although it officially brought together only 12.000 men (with 900 tanks and 100 planes and helicopters) had an offensive scenario to say the least. Faced with an attack by NATO troops, he reacted with a simulated nuclear attack against Poland and the repression of an uprising fomented by the Polish minority in Belarus (read in the Telegraph). Nothing very peaceful! Compared to that, today's exercise could almost seem rural.

No direct threat

The emotion faced by this exercise by the political authorities – especially in Poland (1) and Lithuania – does not seem to be shared in the military ranks of the Allies or even the Baltic countries. The Estonian chief of staff confirmed this to his allied counterparts who questioned him to find out if they were threatened. In essence, the response was “ We are not afraid. We don't feel threatened. We have the means to react, with allies ready to support us, if we are threatened. » On the other hand, what the Estonian authorities (military and political) fear and fear more are attacks of low military intensity, but just as destabilizing for ordinary life. Faced with these hybrid attacks, by nature, mixing cyber attack, disinformation, civil demonstrations are felt in countries which have a strong Russian-speaking minority as the “real” threat (read: In Tallinn, ministers play hybrid cyber warfare).


(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde, in Tallinn)

(1) For reasons essentially of internal politics which escape no ally and within the NATO hierarchy.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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