Zapad 2017: NATO skeptical of Russian troop numbers

NATO has announced that it will send three experts to observe military exercises between Russia and Belarus next month, but Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that he wants the two countries to allow broader monitoring.

Russia and Belarus say the Zapad 2017 exercise, which runs from Sept. 14-20 not far from the borders of NATO allies Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, will involve less than 13,000 troops, but NATO believes that number will actually be into six figures. Under international rules, the two should allow wider access to monitors if troop numbers exceed that figure.

NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said the three experts will attend so-called Visitors' Days in Belarus and Russia after they were invited to attend.

But she said international rules permit monitors to have much wider access, including briefings on the exercise, opportunities to talk to soldiers and overflights. 

The rules governing military exercises are enshrined in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) so-called Vienna Document.

Stoltenberg is calling for the Vienna Document to be revamped, and believes he can muster enough support to ensure that unannounced war games, or snap exercises, can be watched with "snap monitoring," or that small, multiple manoeuvres under different commands be recognized as one big exercise, loopholes he says Moscow is exploiting.

"It's especially important now, because tensions are higher than they used to be. There is more military activity, more exercises and therefore it's even more important that we avoid incidents and accidents or misunderstandings," he told The Associated Press on Friday, in Orzysz, Poland.


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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor of EU Today. 

An experienced journalist and published author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

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