The latest Russian exercise named ‘Zapad 2017’ are symptomatic of a wider geopolitical conflict we are currently seeing in Europe.
The annexation of Crimea by Russia was a statement to the world, and Europe in particular, that Russia will act politically and militarily to expand its territorial base. Russia has also been heavily implicated in the insurgency going on in the breakaway Russian speaking self-proclaimed Republics within Ukraine. This geopolitical conflict can be considered a new Cold war between Russia and the West but it is not the form it has taken in the past.
In addition, this new Cold War is characteristic of changing allegiances, with Russia attempting to put pressure on Ukraine by its military manoeuvres this year which apparently according to the Western press involved 120,000 Russian troops and armoured divisions. However, this number was smaller but still potent and enough to strike fear in NATO and its Eastern flank in the Baltic.
The Zapad-2017 military exercise was an exercise to launch a military intervention against a fictional state called ‘Veshnoriya’ – its geographic size is similar to the NATO Baltic states. In addition, the Zapad-2017 military exercise displayed new Russian equipment such as the T-72BSM/T-72B4 main battle tanks as well as the armoured personnel carriers such as the BTR-MDM Rakushka.
This was also a show of how the Russian military has evolved since the days of the Soviet Union in the 20th century. Furthermore, it was a demonstration of how the Russian military has evolved into a serious fighting force in the 21st century.
To observers, it was to show off Russian military technological advances and its heavy armour and updated armoured personnel carriers to potential buyers and also to instil fear in adversaries. The military exercise was no doubt a success and the fictional state of ‘Veshnoriya’ was overwhelmed by superior Russian and Belorussian forces. This will probably add to further worry to whether this could be replicated with the Baltic States.
However, it is not just military manoeuvres which are the characteristics of this new asymmetric Cold War. This time it is based on economic and strategic pressures brought about by the West, NATO expansion and economic warfare in the form of sanctions. It should come as no shock that Russia’s economy has suffered as a result.
The Ukrainian situation has become a proxy war, in this new Cold War with both Russia and the West aiding and financing both sides. The various Ukrainian and Pro Russian militias are being financed by outside powers.
However, I fear that we will only see more antagonism as Russia attempts to demonstrate its capabilities and rise to a regional Great Power, and having an ‘Offensive’ Grand Strategy to achieve this. For Putin, on both a military and a strategic level, the status-quo in Europe is not acceptable.