The massive "Zapad 2021" strategic military exercises will take place in Russia and Belarus in September. The drills, staged every four years, will combine thousands of troops from Russia and Belarus to stress test their mobility, readiness and interoperability.
The panel was moderated by CEPA Transatlantic Defense and Security Director Lauren Speranza, and the other panelists included CEPA Pershing Chair Ben Hodges, Former First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff of the Royal Navy Admiral Sir George Zambellas and Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) Senior Policy Advisor Alex Tiersky.
The panel explored what the Western world should expect from these exercises following civil unrest in Belarus and Russia’s major military build-up near Ukraine’s border, as well as what the exercises will signal about Russian capabilities and intentions.
“One of the most significant aspects from the military standpoint, the way I see it, is the modernization potential for this,” Murauskaite said during the panel. “Because you’re seeing for this exercise enormous movements of really, really upgraded equipment, weapons – especially aerial, all kinds of aerial technology – and it’s a really good way to swap out the older technology for the new technology without showing a numeric increase, which is also part of what’s being monitored.”
To preview and contextualize the Zapad exercises, the expert panel also explored the exercises’ implications for NATO's own mobility and broader defense and deterrence efforts in Europe.
“[Belarusian President Alexander] Lukashenko seems to be delivering on his other threats of upping the ante on illicit trafficking, because a considerable amount of cargo from Belarus has been moving through Lithuanian territory, and already the officials are reporting a significant uptick in the movement of illicit goods,” Murauskaite said. “Among the threats Lukashenko has mentioned the prospect for movement of WMD and dual-use materials.”