The commander of us forces in Europe Ben Hodges (Ben Hodges) expressed concern that the exercises “West-2017” may become a “Trojan horse”, that is, to divert attention from other military actions undertaken by Russia. The question here is primarily about what Belarus can stay military or infrastructure, which will allow you to exert pressure on Minsk or to obtain in the future additional features in the hypothetical offensive.
According to official data, the number of troops participating in the upcoming trainings, will not exceed a dozen thousand people, but there are reports that the number of participants can reach up to 100 thousand. What opportunities want to work, or to demonstrate Russia during this event?
1. Massive air-missile attacks using different techniques. The teachings of the “West” can afford to work out a coordinated attack with rockets of a class “earth-earth”, “water-ground” and “air-ground”, leading from different directions to penetrate air defenses.
It should be noted that in the last few years in the region of Eastern-Central Europe repeatedly transferred equipment used in such operations. It’s not only the missile complexes “Iskander”, but also the ships of the project “Buyan-M” with cruise missiles “Caliber-NK” or, for example, strategic bombers Tu-95 and Tu-160. Most of these systems can be equipped with both conventional and nuclear missiles.
The Russian military doctrine’s emphasis on coordination of strokes, and the use of bombers simultaneously with missiles “Caliber” were worked out in combat in Syria. Large-scale exercises is a good opportunity to work out the transfer and movement of equipment, and coordinating air and missile strikes. In addition, it is possible to conduct command and staff training related to plans for building missile potential in the Kaliningrad region or in Belarus. It should also be added that Minsk has adopted a system of volley fire “Polonaise”.
2. Quick movement of troops. The other area in which the Russians may decide to check and showcase your abilities is by the transfer of troops over long distances in a minimum period after the return of order. The Russian armed forces is not the first year actively engaged in so-called test readiness, that is, conduct unscheduled exercises, figuring out how individual departments can quickly connect to the fulfillment of combat training tasks. Often such events combined with the transfer of power over a long distance. Such a scenario could allow the Russians to rapidly increase the number of participants in the exercise.
Another important aspect is the interaction of different types of forces (e.g., ground and airborne forces) or conduct operations in several different areas at the same time. It is likely that simultaneously with the teachings of the “West” will start a separate large maneuvers, for example, in the southern military district, near the border with Ukraine. Another element might be to check the new structures of command, senior managers, for example, at the division level.
3. The use of the weapons systems of new generation with the transfer of large amounts of equipment. Exercises “West” will be the opportunity to show an upgraded or modern military equipment, which is supplied to the Russian army.
For example, during the exercises “Vostok-2014” in the Russian far East was widely shown for the first time a new cruise missile, which are used in the complex “Iskander” (often called “Iskander-K”). Such a demonstration, on the one hand, serves propaganda purposes, and with another — allows you to test new weapons and to draw conclusions which will be useful for their further implementation.
Another aspect is the rapid transfer of a large number of modern technology in a specific area, designed to increase the capacity of Russian forces in the region. In doctrines “the West” can, for example, to participate a tactical aircraft with multi-role su-35 and su-30SM or units of rocket artillery with the technology of the new generation. In addition, the Russians can show the modern combat helicopters Ka-52 and Mi-28N units that are close to the area of exercise (e.g., in the vicinity of Pskov), or in remote parts of the country.
4. Unified air defence system with Belarus. During the exercises “West-2017” may be practiced cooperation of the air defense systems of Russia and Belarus. Maneuvers may be accompanied with operations of the Russian radio units or anti-aircraft missile troops (including with use of modern systems s-400).
5. Unconventional actions. There is a high probability that the exercise will involve Russian troops electronic warfare and special forces. The latter often take part in joint trainings with their Belarusian colleagues, and the electronic war has an important place in Russian military doctrine, particularly in the context of hypothetical confrontations with NATO forces that use modern weapons.
In addition, during the maneuvers we can expect cyber operations to be carried out, for example, in cooperation with the forces of the REB. Let me remind you that in the scenario of the exercises “West-2013” was part of action against “terrorist groups” from the Baltic States. In addressing these maneuvers report that in 2015, unveiled the organization “Jamestown Foundation”, however, you can read the following: “during the exercise, in all probability, worked out offensive on Poland and the Baltic States”. We can assume that “the West-2017” will be accompanied by provocations against the above-mentioned States (cyber attacks, the airspace violation and so on).
6. Simulation of the use of weapons of mass destruction. The exercises associated with the use of weapons of mass destruction, always shrouded in a veil of secrecy, even if they are exclusively of command and staff nature and will not involve troops.
However, it should be recalled that, according to some sources, in 2009, the script includes the testing of a nuclear strike on Poland. Russian military doctrine permits the use of non-strategic nuclear weapons and their value in recent years has increased, as confirmed by the report from the Swedish defense research Agency 2017.
7. Information operations. In connection with the exercise by the Russians will most certainly make information operations. Moscow in such cases traditionally complex trying to justify their actions and discredit the steps being taken by NATO. The question here may be, for example, spreading false information (as it was during the exercises of the Alliance in East-Central Europe).
Another element of the “information warfare” is concealing information about the real scale of the exercises and their scenarios (with the statements about transparency). Finally, we cannot exclude that the teachings of the “West” will be held in accordance with the plan and without special incident, and Russia uses it to prove the groundlessness of the fears of the North Atlantic Alliance, is trying to strengthen its capacity.
Exercises “West-2017” cause alarm among commentators from the countries-members of NATO. They believe that Russia can use this excuse for actions that will have a negative impact on the security environment in East-Central Europe. It is likely that the exercise will serve to divert attention from the aggressive actions (of different scale and nature), for example against Ukraine or the Baltic republics.
On the other hand, in the context of a possible reaction of the international community, it seems more likely a scenario of pressure, which would be, for example, in the fact that Belarus remains Russia’s military or infrastructure designed to support future potential transactions in East-Central Europe.
It should be added that in the past the Minsk spoke at least skeptical on the subject of the continued presence of Russian military forces on its territory (for example, plans to build in Belarus units with su-27).
Even if the fears of some experts are groundless, NATO countries should be to the teachings of the “West” increased attention. In January, former commander of NATO forces in Europe said: “whether Russia is ready for war? The Russian military exercises in the last ten years, becoming more extensive and are more offensive in nature. I think we ought not to speculate about what Moscow does, and to closely monitor its actions. She organizes large-scale exercises, doing it so often that we lose vigilance. This could allow the Russians to use the element of surprise when the exercises suddenly turned into an invasion.”
Actions undertaken by Russia so far, suggest that it can solve somehow caught the West by surprise and thereby earn some points (at least political). NATO countries, especially its Eastern flank, be prepared for different scenarios.