Zapad 2017: Russia’s Giant Military Exercise

Russia's biggest war games in years didn't result in the "big invasion" a top NATO official had warned about, but there's still suspicion in the West that the Zapad 2017 exercises involved many more troops than Moscow let on.

Zapad, which translates to "West" in Russian, took place in western Russia and Belarus between Sept. 14 and Sept. 20. NATO's Military Committee Head General Petr Peval had said the exercises looked like "a serious preparation for [a] big war". Russia said 12,700 military personnel were involved, though some western estimates put that number at 100,000.

NATO observers were allowed to watch the war games, though some complained their access was restricted. VICE News visited Zapad and found the Russian military was touchy about what we could see and where we could go.

The exercises were hit by bad weather and occasional military missteps, with an attack helicopter accidentally firing on a group of men, injuring three. Russian president Vladimir Putin watched parts of Zapad, which involved a scenario where a fictitious region of Belarus tried to break away with help from NATO.

Russia has been modernizing is military for the past decade, at a time when trust with its western neighbors is at its lowest point since the Cold War. Sweden is currently holding its biggest military exercises in 20 years, involving 19,000 troops, with support from other NATO countries.

Published on Oct 1, 2017

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