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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Thursday, October 19, 2017

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After War games, enemies still suspicious of Russian motives

Relations between Kiev and Moscow

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MOSCOW, Russia - Days after ending its controversial military exercises called the ‘Zapad 2017’, Russia continues to face accusations from neighbors who have feared that the country’s drills might have been staged to fulfill some ulterior motives. 

On Friday, Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief Viktor Muzhenko leveled accusations in an interview with Reuters, that Russia left troops behind after staging the war games despite promising not to.

Muzhenko further stated that Russia had withdrawn only a few units from Belarus and had lied about how many of its soldiers were there in the first place.

Muzhenko added, “We had information that they had withdrawn only a few units of the declared 12,500 troops, of which 3,000 were Russians, but there were significantly more of them there.”

Muzhenko said the Russians had withdrawn air units from Belarus to make a show of leaving.

He added, “Russia demonstrated, and it was primarily a demonstration, the return of aviation units -- they took off from the airfields and flew to airfields in Russia. But we understand that 300-400 km for aviation is a distance that can be overcome in a very short time.”

He said Ukraine was still outgunned in terms of its air defense capabilities in the Donbass war and needed air reconnaissance and anti-missile systems.

A day later, a Russian general clarified that Russian troops that took part in war games in neighboring Belarus have returned to their bases.

The country’s TASS news agency quoted Major-General Igor Konashenkov as saying, “As for units of Russian forces that took part in a mutual strategic military exercises ‘Zapad 2017’, they all returned to their permanent disposition.”

Konashenkov added that Muzhenko’s remarks on Russian troops in Belarus were a fantasy. 

Referring to Muzhenko, he said the comments were “a reason for an immediate resignation for such an executive officer.”

Later in the day, a Belarussian defense ministry spokesman clarified that the last train of Russian troops and equipment had left Belarus on Thursday, September 28.

Relations between Kiev and Moscow have deteriorated after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014.

The country further supported the outbreak of a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 10,000 people.

Experts fear that Muzhenko’s comments could increase tension between the two neighbors as Ukraine considers itself as being at war with Russia.

Despite Moscow’s denial, Ukraine has previously accused Moscow of sending troops and hardware to fight in the Donbass region. 

Zapad, which means “west” in Russian, is the reincarnation of a Soviet-era training exercise that involves Warsaw Pact countries, and is carried out every four years. 

The training this year held by Russian and Belarussian troops on territory in both countries caused particular alarm in the west as some observers believed it to be the biggest military drill Russia has held since the end of the cold war.
Before the start of the large-scale drills, the west was anxious over Russia’s ability to conduct “hybrid warfare” using cyber-attacks, proxies and fake news and even though Moscow has reassured the west that it was just standard training exercises and the fears were merely hype - Zapad has proven to be a reminder of the country’s hard military power. 

In response to the fears, Russia blamed the NATO troop buildup in central and eastern Europe - calling it the real threat to stability on the continent. 

In a bid to counter the Russian threat, however, the multinational NATO force deployed a 4,000-member squad in the Baltics and Poland.

The west had claimed that about 100,000 troops were taking part in the Zapad drills this year, Russia countered it by revealed that only 12,700 troops were part of the exercises, which brings the number just under the 13,000 threshold - which is the requirement to allow western observers to attend under the Vienna treaty. 

Russia even invited a number of diplomatic observers from Germany, Italy, Croatia, and Norway - all NATO countries and said that all the fears are misplaced. 

The large-scale Russian military exercise features helicopters, fighter jets, missiles and tanks is employed at a firing range close to Russia’s border with the EU. 
Meanwhile, Ukraine staged its own drills in northern Ukraine in response to Zapad and built up troops there.

 

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