Lithuania has accused Russia and Belarus of preparing a simulated attack on NATO with their upcoming mass joint drill, according to Baltic news site Delfi.
“This is not a defensive [simulation],” Lithuania’s Defense Minister, Raimundas Karoblis told Lithuanian TV channel LRT on Sunday. “This is visibly a simulation of an offensive character against NATO and specifically against the Baltic countries and evidently Poland.”
During the drill, Zapad (West) 2017, Belarus and Russia’ will practice their joint abilities in combat at their western borders, which span much of NATO’s eastern flank.
For Russia, Zapad is defensive drill targeting a hypothetical threat in its west. Belarus’s Minister of Defense Andrey Ravkov has said the drill, due to take place in September, will not consist of more than 13,000 people—the Cold War limit for a drill that can go ahead without international inspection.
Four years ago, when the previous instalment of Zapad took place, Russia claimed 10,000 troops took place in the practice, when western analysts estimated some 70,000 took part in simultaneous military drills nationwide, according to CBS.
Baltic states have therefore expressed little confidence that the upcoming drill will not be disruptive, believing that the practice is designed to simulate an attack on NATO.
“Such is the intelligence data, both our own and our allies—above all we are speaking about a drill, not any prelude to a full on or partial conflict,” Karoblis said, but also added that a large and unpredictable exercise meant mistakes could happen.
NATO has pledged to rotate 4,000 allied troops through Poland and the Baltics as part of a wider reinforcement strategy on its eastern flank, bordering Russia.