Russia-Belarus military drill ‘Zapad-2021’ begins amid fears of non-transparency

The Russian Ministry of Defense has announced the beginning of the “Zapad-2021” exercises at 3:15 a.m. on September 10. The Belarusian side had not announced the start of the exercises at the time of publication; it had only written about the solemn ceremony the day before.

Russian Airborne Troops landing combat equipment at Zhitovo training ground. Ryazan region, Russia. September 10, 2021. Photo:

Russian Baltic Fleet ships have already been put to sea to fulfill the objectives of the exercises; fighter planes of Russia and Belarus started a joint alert (they will also practice forcing other planes to land). The air defense units began their military duty.

The military exercises “Zapad-2021” take place in the area stretching from the Baltic Sea and the Kaliningrad region to Russia’s Voronezh and Nizhny Novgorod regions. Nine training ranges are used on Russian territory and five on Belarusian territory.

According to the official data of the Russian side, 200,000 servicemen, more than 80 planes and helicopters, over 290 tanks, and up to 760 pieces of military equipment, including up to 15 ships, are taking part in the exercise. But it has been promised to involve only 12,800 people in the territory of Belarus, of whom only 2,500 will be Russians. Belarus also promises to involve more than 30 aircraft and helicopters, and 350 pieces of military equipment, including up to 140 tanks.

All five firing ranges in Belarus (“Abuz-Lyasnousky,” “Brestski,” “Chepyalova,” “Damanauski,” and “Ruzhanski”) are in the west of the country, near the border with Poland. The “Brestski” one is just 5 km from the border.

Earlier, NATO urged Russia to be open about the exercises and the number of participants, as anxiety was growing in Poland, Ukraine, and the Baltic states. Russia, said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, must behave predictably and transparently, as the exercises could lead to a miscalculation or incident that would start a crisis.

The NATO leader noted that previously the number of troops involved in the exercises was five times higher than declared and that Russia had never been open about the exercise inspection.

He also noted tension on the borders of NATO countries and Belarus because official Minsk uses migrants as weapons.