When Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the conclusion of what is considered to be the greatest Russian war games performed in Europe since the Cold War, he witnessed a massive display of weaponry put on by his troops.
The Zapad joint exercises with Belarus take place every four years, with the main phase starting last week and involves tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks, planes, and vessels in locations throughout western Russia and Belarus.
This 45-minute spectacle is part of one of the greatest military drills on NATO's eastern border since the Cold War ended. According to Russia, 200,000 troops are participating in Zapad 2021, which will see Russia's most strategically vital western military region conduct joint military maneuvers with Belarusian forces for six days - at least in the active phase.
Zapad war games
Those figures might very likely be overblown. Russia tends to tell figures to impress domestic viewers while also scaring the West. However, regardless of the actual numbers, they are huge exercises that have already entailed months of planning and longer-term military rotations, Sky News reported.
Zapad takes place every four years and always follows the same plot. A fictitious western alliance is collaborating with "terrorist organizations" to destabilize Belarus and seize control of portions of the nation. The Union State's, Russia's, and Belarus' combined forces must repel the invasion, beat the adversary head-on, and potentially sustain a longer-term regional conflict with a nuclear component toward the conclusion.
That implies his relationship with President Putin is heading in one direction: greater integration, both militarily and politically. Russia now maintains a relatively constant military presence in Belarus, including a joint Air Force training center in Grodno, which is close to Belarus's borders with Poland and Lithuania.
Such large-scale drills so close to the border, Ukraine, NATO members Poland and Lithuania argue, risk being provocative, as per The NY Post. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stated on Friday that an all-out conflict with Russia was a possibility and that he wanted to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
When combat in eastern Ukraine escalated and Russia massed additional soldiers along the border, tensions between Kyiv and Moscow reached new heights this year. Putin disputed that the military drills are aimed at any foreign state and claimed that they are necessary for light of growing NATO operations near Russia's and its partners' borders.
Russia showcases support to Belarus in huge military exercises
The drills are performed every four years, but this year's exercise has been interpreted as a show of Russian support for Belarus and its president, Alexander Lukashenko, whom the West has chastised for cracking down on opposition.
The main part of the drills, which will involve 200,000 troops, 80 aircraft, 290 tanks, and 15 ships, will take place at nine locations in Russia and five locations in Belarus, according to Russia's Defense Ministry. Armenia, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Mongolia were also expected to participate.
The Zubr-class LCAC, the world's largest hovercraft, took part in Monday's maneuvers, according to footage from the exercise. Russia claims that 200,000 troops are participating in this year's war exercises, but military experts believe the number is far smaller.
The number of troops expected to take part is estimated to be between 50,000 and 100,000. Last week, Michael Kofman, head of the Center for Naval Analyses' Russia Studies Program, wrote on the website War on the Rocks that Moscow intends to emphasize the number of troops involved.
The war simulations are meant to test Russia's ability to fight a big battle with NATO on its northern border. Although the drills are scheduled to finish on September 16, Moscow has stated that Russian troops would not return to their military bases until mid-October, as per Express.co.