What actually happened during Zapad 2017

I covered Zapad 2017 extensively on this blog, in a day by day account back in September. The goal was to create a resource for the community, something everyone could look back to in their analysis for background. Recently I’ve been motivated to write a short analysis of Zapad, and why both before and after the exercise a lot of coverage got it wrong. There are important takeaways from this exercise, but as always, sensational accounts muddy the waters, and they regularly lead to people learning things that are not true.

German newspaper Bild recently published an amazing article, claiming that according to ‘two Western intelligence’ sources, Russia sought to invade the Baltics, Poland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and bomb Germany, along with a host of other unsubstantiated claims. I wish to thank them, since their fantastical account of Zapad 2017 is the inspiration for this actual account of Zapad 2017. While it may be general knowledge that Zapad is historically an exercise aimed at a contingency with NATO, much of what Bild claimed is not only untrue, it simply does not make military sense. However, before we get to Bild’s ‘alternative history’ of what happened that is now being passed around twitter like so much other received wisdom, let’s discuss what truly took place this September.

T-80s of 1st Tank Guards Army

Zapad is typically a two-phase scenario, where the proximate cause of conflict between Russia and NATO is Belarus (since Zapad-1999 when they began running these exercises again). The exercise often features a Russian defense against the supposed intervention, then horizontal and vertical escalation, followed by a substantial counter-attack against NATO. The purpose of the exercise is for the General Staff and national leadership to test the country’s ability to mobilize for a general war, gain experience in training and commanding the newly reformed armed forces, and in the big picture improve its coercive diplomacy vis-a-vis the United States by making clear Russia’s capability and resolve to use force if it’s core interests are challenged.

All those things held true this year, but the actual size of the exercise was much smaller than anticipated, both across Russia, and in the immediate Baltic region. Not 100,000 or any of the other inflated accounts suggesting similar numbers. As Gen. Ben Hodges (just retired), had noted the exercise was somewhere north of 40,000. According to Igor Sutyagin at RUSI 48,000 to be exact, with maybe 23,000 in the areas noted for Zapad exercises. I differ with his account slightly, as I think it was perhaps no more than 45,000 across Russia, while the immediate region should include the Baltic and exercises by the Northern Fleet.

The chief difference is really a narcissism of small differences – whether or not you factor in exercises in the Eastern MD, and foreign deployed troops in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Tajikistan, Transnistria, etc. Subtract 3,000 listed for the exercise on Sakhalin and you’re probably at about 45,000. There were parallel exercises and annual checks scheduled for that time of year and it’s rather debatable what was part of the Zapad scenario versus what coincided. What is clear is that there are no credible sources out there arguing that the exercise was a massive test of a Russian invasion of NATO, or that 100,000 troops participated in the event (note I said credible).

Zapad 2017 was seemingly not only smaller than anticipated, it was likely smaller than expected in Russia as well, judging by the fact that the number of rail wagons ordered seemed to exceed the amount used by a considerable margin. That is, the original planning back in 2016 might have been for a larger event. Some explained this with a theory that Russia’s General Staff intended to send more forces to Belarus and was somehow turned away. There is nothing to support this version of events. Instead it is very likely that canned exercise press releases were pushed out, for units that at some point were nixed in planning, which may reveal earlier variations that never came to pass (along with the logistical planning for them).

For example, it may have been that the entire 1st Tank Guards Army was supposed to show at some point early in the planning (our press informed us of this dreaded army looming), but actually only select units participated in the exercise. The same goes for entire VDV divisions, which actually only contributed a handful of battalions. Unfortunately Russia’s official press is quite terrible, announcing a lot more on the day to Belarus than there actually was, and people frequently attribute malice to what is typically malpractice.

BMPs on railcars.jpg

One possible reason Zapad 2017 was smaller this year is that it did not involve a major counter-attack against NATO forces, with a large scale deployment of 2nd echelon forces into the fight, which might come from Central MD. Although the 90th Tank Division did train as part of the exercise separately, it seems on the whole this event was focused on other matters, and in that way perhaps differs from Zapad 2013. It is also not a general fight against NATO, but a coalition of NATO members backed by the U.S. A distinction with a difference. So the fight was aimed at Poland, Lithuania, and the U.S. in support, based on the lead-in scenario for the exercise (bordering NATO states meddling in Belarus).

I will offer a cursory summary of the phases, although details on what happened during those days can be found in earlier entries on this blog.

Phase One, September 14-16:

  • Airlift of support crews and personnel to forward airbases. VDV Airborne drops to defend against lead elements of NATO forces in Baltic region. VKS movements to forward bases near theater of operations with fighters and long range aviation Tu-22M3. Air defense exercises to defend against incoming enemy aircraft and cruise missiles.
  • Russian ground forces loaded up and got under way by rail, strong focus on logistics and support units to get armor and mechanized units moving.
  • Railway troops, CBRN troops, signal troops, and other supporting units among MTO had a central role in ensuring the movement of Russian forces under simulated fire and cover from adversary ISR.
  • Russian Navy defended against incoming cruise missile strikes. They were tasked with getting out of port under aerosol screens, then deployed for ASW, and air defense. Their mission was to take out enemy submarines, and prepare to defend maritime approaches against surface action groups/amphibious landings.
  • Southern and Central Military District’s held concurrent drills on the essentials, including logistics, communications, air defense, along with artillery, armored warfare, and reconnaissance.

Phase Two, September 17-20:

  • Russia’s General Staff worked to setup a unified battle space 600km wide, under a single combined (or joint) command, that would control the forces in the theater. As they took in units from combined arms armies, the big challenges were coordinating material support, provisions, and communication among these forces, with an effort to establish a common operating picture, along with command and control of different types of forces on the battlefield (combined arms warfare).
  • Russian ground forces sought to integrate combat aviation for close support, drones for ISR, electronic warfare units, and air power on the battlefield, together with the traditional artillery and mechanized warfare.
  • There was a strong emphasis on recon-strike complex, how to connect drones to artillery, working out the kill chain for both area of effect and long range precision weapons. These are new tools in the toolkit, proliferating across brigades, but there’s much work to be done in actually aligning capabilities and learning how to use them on the battlefield.
  • The conflict presumed early horizontal escalation, where Russia would have to defend in multiple theaters against enemy cruise strikes and aerospace attacks (of course only the U.S. global force poses as an opponent with such capabilities). Russian units worked to repair rail bridges, communications, and internal lines of communications assuming that they might be taken out.
  • Russian units formed into BTGs of varying sizes, reinforced with VDV troops. Some focused on defending Kaliningrad, or Pechenga for example to the North. Others conducted raids against the enemy behind their lines. Russian forces simulated pushing a NATO coalition out of Belarus, but the size and scale of this exercise was more modest than anticipated. Probably they planned to punch through to Kaliningrad, but that’s just a general assumption (what else would they do?)
  • Airstrikes against NATO airbases and other key infrastructure are almost a given in the Baltic region, given the size of the exercise and the scenario, but the offensive nature of the exercise seemed limited in scope.
  • The more robust role of the Russian Navy was on display, taking out surface action groups with ships, submarines, and coastal defense cruise missiles. The exercises in the Arctic region were also notable, showing Russia expects enemy forces to be a problem on New Siberian Islands, Kotelny, and other areas under the purview of the Joint-Arctic Command. Zapad featured a lot of counter-sabotage exercises, and defense against raids by enemy special forces.

The exercise demonstrated some core elements of Russian planning for long range conventional strikes with SRBMs and ground launched cruise missiles. This is both part of a conventional warding strike, and likely NSNW employment for escalation control. Russian medium bombers had a role on the last day, but strategic bombers were not involved according to announcements. There may have been a pair of Tu-95MS doing their typical flight past Norway on the last day, but this is not an uncommon occurrence.

I’m highly skeptical that long range aviation had any sort of nuclear attack mission in this exercise, especially since it makes little sense for them, or that the ICBM tests were truly a part of it given the nuclear forces exercise came later in the fall, i.e. all those things were tested and demonstrated to the West on a grander scale after Zapad. The strategic nuclear exercise traditionally follows the combined strategic exercise later in the year. Since Zapad-1999, Russia has on and off included nuclear signaling with strategic bomber aviation, but the intent behind it was to make a point to the United States. This is not a conversation Russia is having with Europe, but one it is having with Washington, since Russia principally sees NATO as a platsdarm for the projection of U.S. military power.

The fables of Russian bombers attacking this or that are often told after Russian exercises, typically by politicians, such as the supposedly simulated Tu-22M3 nuclear strike on Sweden from Zapad 2013, which also never made sense, and was not substantiated by anything. If anyone had a nuclear mission in this exercise it was likely the missile brigades belonging to ground forces.

R-500 launch 3.jpg

Given the fear and panic spread in some circles ahead of Zapad, Russia needed fairly little to bolster its coercive credibility in being willing to use force, and follow through with conventional or nuclear escalation. That being said, the message was quite clear about Russian readiness and resolve were there to be a crisis in Belarus. In this respect Zapad was a success perhaps before it even began.

Now let’s get to Bild. This is what Bild thinks happened according to ‘two Western intelligence analysts.’ We can venture some guesses as to what country they’re from on the basis of how they saw these events unfold. This version of Zapad 2017 seems to be Putin’s operation #YOLO


Unfortunately Bild’s account can only help further bolster Russia’s credibility and the mythologized capability of it’s armed forces. Here is what Bild wrote on the basis of mysterious intelligence sources:

  • Russian Tu-95MS bombing runs around Norway to strike Germany. Why would bombers with long range ALCMs have to fly anywhere near Europe to launch at Germany and Netherlands? They can fire from behind Moscow. That’s what 2,500km+ range cruise missiles are for. Actually they can hit Germany just fine without bombers too. In any case, there were stories of RAF Typhoons scrambling to intercept Russian planes off of Scotland but its unclear what they were, and it is very unlikely if they were bombers, that their mission was to “bomb” Germany (they don’t carry bombs). Russian bombers and other aircraft visit that part of airspace rather frequently, and are regularly intercepted by NATO aircraft.
  • Russian units from Kaliningrad invading Poland. The BTG formed here with VDV reinforcements focused on defense, although it would be interesting to see the op plan for invading all of Poland with 1200 men. The same goes for Sweden and Finland. The 6th Army is basically a defensive Army Corps, so it’s somewhat dubious as to what it has on hand to invade Finland with. Russian units in Pechenga (Northern Fleet) formed a large BTG for defense, but its somewhat incredible to imagine an invasion of Scandinavia with a handful of soldiers, and no actual objective. There’s nothing strategic there to invade (no offense Scandinavian colleagues).
  • Russian amphibious landings to seize harbors and ports. Russian Naval Infantry does practice landings, but with an old LST fleet and tiny lift capacity, it’s hardly in the cards nor is it truly their mission. If you can capture a Baltic city with 8 APCs then they have a good chance of doing it, otherwise its problematic. Amphibious assault is not really something Russian forces are well setup to do. Frankly, amphibious anything is not really their forte. Meanwhile the VDV airborne had a much more humble presence than expected, perhaps 4-5 battalions took part from different divisions.
  • Cruise missile strikes against infrastructure, if simulated, were done by the two R-500 launches during the exercise, that is via ground based systems. There were also simulated fires from old Tochka-U which are being retired. Although Russia can deliver similar fires via sea and air launched missiles as well. Syria saw a good deal of action at the same time as Zapad 2017.
  • Finally, the proposition that Russia practiced an invasion of the Baltics, Poland and Scandinavia, while fighting the rest of NATO, with about 23,000-25,000 troops is at face value somewhat ridiculous. Zapad 2017 is about a high end fight with NATO, but it’s quite clear what the exercise is and isn’t. There was no invasion of Norway, or Sweden, or Poland, or bombing of the Netherlands, or any of the other alt-history Bild got from its friendly intelligence analysts. Senior officials in U.S. and NATO saw nothing of the sort described in Bild’s apocalyptic fantasy.

This was the Russian amphibious landing exercise in the Baltic Sea:

LST landing

Bild’s account of what happened during Zapad 2017 seems closer to this picture below:

Image may contain: one or more people

The Zapad exercise historically has a defensive and offensive component, as all strategic-operational exercises should, but 2017 appeared more limited in scale when it came to the ground force offensive/counterattack. Undoubtedly Russian forces crushed NATO in Belarus and saved Kaliningrad, but the rest of it seemed pretty conservative. Instead a strong emphasis was placed on fundamentals and functional areas of development: mobility and logistics, networking and communications, connecting ISR to fires, integrating aviation with ground attack, defense against aerospace attack, queuing and kill-chain development for long range fires, etc. For details you can look back to the day by day coverage in this blog from September.

As for what happened during Zapad 2017 according to twitter, and Bild, I can best illustrate using the imaginative renderings of Jakub Różalski –

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, cloud, sky and outdoor


Zapad watch – summary of ‘post exercise’ exercises (the Zapad hangover)

Zapad is over, but exercises and drills go on across Russia, like an echo bouncing across the military districts. In this final blog entry on Zapad I’ll give a sense of what the Russian military has been doing since Zapad officially ended. Most of these exercises are not part of Zapad 2017, but as always, it’s a bit hard to tell. Some seem like a continuation on the very same theme, perhaps for 2nd echelon forces or those that couldn’t get their training done during the week of the event. This is the final blog entry on Zapad – covering this exercise was mildly exhausting.

Russia’s Fleets had a few interesting exercises and live fire drills even though the main event had ended. Central and Southern MDs are quite active with large scale air defense and artillery exercises. Thousands of Russian troops are still at ranges in the far east, Siberia, North Caucasus and southern Russia.

A host of naval infantry, spetsnaz and special designation support units are conducting drills geared towards their specific mission sets and there is a wave of exercises across bases outside Russian territory, including: Transnistria, Abkhazia, and Tajikistan.

Western MD – A few photos of Russian units heading back.

BMPs on railcars


Some interesting announcements cropped up after the last day of Zapad:

Western MD – There was a special command and control training with topographic and geodesic support units (sounds like those controlling satellites) for providing navigation at different levels to Russian forces. More interestingly, in the ‘strategic direction’ (suppose northwest) they worked out how to ensure the accuracy of missile units and artillery. They also worked on detecting jamming sources and how to adjust satellite navigation guidance for said jamming. About 250 servicemen involved all together. Sorry the translation is somewhat awkward given the terms involved, but this may have been one of the technically more important exercises and of course no photos available for something like this.

Southern MD – There’s a large scale air defense and artillery exercise ongoing at two ranges, Kaputsin Yar and Yeysky (near Rostov-on-Don).  An artillery battalion from a motor rifle brigade garrisoned in Volgograd were drilling at the training range Prydboi. This ‘division’ of artillery employed MSTA-S in support of a motor rifle battalion. Drones were used in the exercise, including to simulate enemy drones to which the artillery division had to react, i.e. quickly pack up from firing position and get themselves road mobile. Around 500 servicemen and 100 piece s of artillery took part. The exercise will conclude with 120mm Hosta mortar fires and Tornado-G MLRS. A sniper unit is training at the same range, about 50 men total, together with a Spetz recon team.


At Kaputsin Yar, Russian air defense units from their base in Abkhazia ran live fire exercises with OSA-AKM, Strela-10M, and Igla MANPADS. About 300 servicemen and 30 pieces of equipment listed. Total it seems 1500 men and 400 pieces of equipment running air defense drills in Southern MD.

Eastern MD – As drills continue in this district, Spetsnaz units in Khabarovsk conducted raids against two enemy camps. They arrived via Mi-8AMTSh helicopters, and were retrieved after a 10km march. Meanwhile in Zabaykalsky Krai (by Mongolia) Su-30SM heavy multirole fighters provided air cover for the insertion of airborne units. The Su-30SMs practiced dog fighting and dealing with various forms of electronic warfare.

At the Joint Sea 2017 exercise with China’s PLAN the two sides worked on submarine rescue with Bester-1 and LR-7 submersible vehicles.

Central MD – More than 500 artillerymen are currently running live fire exercises in Orenburg at the Totskoye range. They located the target with drones and then concentrated fires with BM-21 Grad, MSTA-S and other types of artillery. About 120 pieces of equipment total. Meanwhile in Western Siberia a S-400 unit is conducting live fire exercises against incoming enemy missile strikes.

Tajikistan – Artillerymen from Russia’s base in Tajikistan destroyed a terrorist convoy carrying weapons. They detected them with Zastava drones, locating the supposed convoy of cars, and then opened up with 120mm Sani mortars.


Transnistria – Not to be left out of the war, Russian units ran some live fire drills in this long frozen conflict, with about 350 servicemen and 30 pieces of equipment involved. The machinery looked rather dated and worn, older BTRs and BRDMs. Still the ‘peacekeeping’ unit gave it their go to demonstrate that a battalion of Russian forces was still alive and quite operational in this breakaway region.

Don’t forget about us, we’re still peacekeeping.

Transnistria 2

Caspian Flotilla – Naval Infantry belonging to the flotilla (two battalions) hit the mountain training range of Adanak in Dagestan for some exercises in reconnaissance with the KRYS ‘Strelets’ system. About 600 naval infantrymen and some Nona self-propelled mortars were involved. They were working out integration between identifying targets with the personal kit system, relaying them to supporting mortar artillery using the same system, and then servicing the target.

CF Marines

Baltic Fleet – Select units of 11th Corps still have some work to do, practicing for ‘counter-terrorism’ drills. I’m not sure when the last incident of terrorism occurred in Kaliningrad but one suspects it’s a low probability event. In reality they were working on dealing with infiltrators, who had seized Russian army uniforms and were seeking to take over key technical facilities on the base, i.e. enemy special forces units. Seems they sorted out NATO, but there are still a few scenarios to be worked out regarding adversary SOF. The exercise is relatively small, about 150 servicemen and 20 pieces of equipment, including some drones, and high speed boats.

Baltic Fleet.jpg

The Baltic Fleet’s S-400 units may have only held electronic launches during Zapad. Now they are moving to Ashylyk range in Astrakhan for live fire exercises against high altitude, low altitude, maneuverable and ballistic targets. The scenarios are meant to recreate combat conditions, force the batteries to camouflage, displace, and work under enemy suppression. Quite possibly the reason for this is that the Baltic region right now is filled to the brim with various ISR and intel collection assets from different countries due to all the exercises picking up every wave and particle recordable – so perhaps they wished to do some S-400 launches away from so many prying eyes. About 200 servicemen and 20 pieces of equipment are involved according to the official announcement.

North Fleet – In the course of exercises in the Barents, White and Laptev Seas (also New Siberian Islands) the fleet fired 13 different types of missiles from ships, submarines and CDCMs.  The Fleet’s commander, Vice Admiral Nikolai Evmenov explained that the scenarios modeled existing and possible threats. Meanwhile on Kotelny archipelago it kind of wasn’t over. The specialized Arctic brigade made a landing via LST Kondopoga. The units included several BTR-80s, MT-LBTs, and Vityaz all terrain vehicles. After the landing, four platoons mimicked an assault to seize a strategic height on the island.

North Fleet invades Kotelny

Peter the Great’s surface action group still had some work left on the way home. Orel, the Oscar-II SSGN and Peter the Great (Kirov-class) held some interesting duels in the Barents Sea. Peter the Great worked on ASW, and fired its ‘Vodopad’ ASROC system, while the Oscar practiced torpedo attacks.

(looks like Dmitri Donskoy is out there with them)

Northern Fleet

Notable photos:

Necessity is the mother of invention (is there anything exercise balls can’t do?)

exercise ball

PLAN Teamwork

Chinese marines

Zapad watch – summary of day seven (last day)

The final day of Russia’s Zapad 2017 exercise just concluded. It’s over now….or is it? No, seriously, it’s probably over. Russian units in Belarus and Leningrad Oblast had a final go at it and then began to pack up their bags for a return trip to their garrisons. Although weather continued to be poor, there were some interesting moments on the last day, from VDV assaults to Tu-22M3 bomber flights over the Baltic and Norwegian Sea. Russia’s long range aviation also began waking up for some joint tests with air defense units. And an RS-24 road mobile ICBM launch, which is probably neither here nor there.

BLUF: The Russian Navy and Air Force remained active, shooting down cruise missiles, and running simulations with ground based air defenses. VDV began preparations for return flights back to base. Logistics units of various types, particularly railway troops, communications, radar, and CBRN continued specialized technical drills. Not all is quiet on the Central and Eastern Front though. Readiness checks, inspections, and some fresh exercises suggest that while Zapad is over the busy training regimen will continue for Russian forces into October. Some of these may be connected to Zapad, while others not.


Also Lithuania didn’t get invaded and Belarus seems like it will be ok

Meanwhile it’s unclear if the RS-24 Yars launches (12th and 20th) have anything at all to do with this as part of an escalation dynamic or just RVSN working off its own schedule for missile tests. Probably both, the first launch was likely RVSN doing its own testing and the second one is an open question mark – could be terminal phase of Zapad.

The exercise aside, there were other more important things on the minds of Russia’s General Staff. In Syria Jabhat al-Nusra launched an attack north of Hama which endangered a platoon of Russian MPs operating in the area together with KSO special forces. Rumor has it that most of the available rotary and fixed wing aviation Russia had available in Syria was called in to repel the attack, preventing encirclement. Russia’s MoD blamed US intelligence services for instigating the Nusra assault. From the sound of it, the last day of Zapad almost got too exciting as the real war in Syria made its presence felt.


Borisovsky range – Lukashenko came to observe the final day of the exercise, but there was no joint photo op between him and V. Putin since they were at different ranges. The optics of collaboration and integration with Belarus were missing the personal touch. Quite possibly it was at one or the other leader’s decision not to have a joint review of forces.

It’s all great but where’s my ally? (In all seriousness probably Lukashenko doesn’t want to be seen with Putin so he can play the role of ‘unwilling ally’ and maintain options for dealing with the West)



Training continued at Luzhsky (Luga), and around Pskov, but Kaliningrad’s range Pravdinsky seemed to wrap things up.

Russian Tu-22M3 bombers conducted flights over the Baltic and Norwegian Sea, during which they were greeted by US, Belgian, Finnish, and Swedish fighters.

At Plesetsk Cosmodrome a RS-24 YARS roadmobile ICBM was launched from a Krona shelter targeting the Kura test range on Kamchatka. Zapad seems to be book ended by two RS-24 ICBM launches, a silo-based test on September 12th, and a road-mobile launch on September 20th. The connection between Zapad and these missile tests is unclear. The first launch on September 12th was supposedly delivering a newer type of reentry vehicle (or decoy?)


Another interesting exercise on this day: Russia’s air force practiced responding to terrorists hijacking a civilian airliner out of Moscow and redirecting it north (maybe Swedish insurgents). Two Su-27s on alert responded while Russia’s ground based air defenses tracked then plane and prevented it from leaving Russian airspace.

VDV Airborne – 76th Division crossed a river in their BMD vehicles and then assaulted enemy positions from behind enemy lines near Pskov. After this decisive action NATO units surrendered. Meanwhile, after completing the final day of drills, the VDV battalion airlifted into Kaliningrad reported to be preparing for departure back to their garrison. Looks like they’re packing up to go home. However it was not the best conclusion to the exercise for the VDV branch. The commander of Russia’s VDV was involved in a terrible automotive accident near Murmansk, and was taken to the hospital with serious injuries, along with aides who were in the vehicle with him.

VDV river crossing

Heading home

VDV returning from Kaliningrad

VKS Aerospace Forces – Su-35s in Telemba (Buryatia in eastern Siberia) shifted to an airbase in Zabaykalky Krai took on incoming enemy cruise missiles. Russia used Kh-55 target practice missiles, launched by Tu-95MS strategic bombers, as targets for air defenses at Telemba. Yes Russian strategic bomber aviation woke up to get itself in the game. This is taking place in the Eastern MD but seems to be a VKS + LRA exercise. Might be more strategic bomber drills to come, after all nuclear exercise season tends to follow in October.

Russia’s Aerospace Forces are heading back to their airbases. Well, not everyone, clearly Tu-22M3s had a busy day. Altogether the list of fixed wing and rotary aviation involved includes: Su-35s, Su-30SM, Su-34, Su-24M, Su-25, Mig-31BM, Mig-29SMT, Mi-28N, Mi-35, Mi-8, Ka-52. Special mention has been made throughout about how bad the weather was during the second half of the exercise.

VKS returning

Central MD – In Chelyabinsk there is an inspection of the 90th Armored Division (by the border  with Kazakhstan). Apparently 25-29 September there will be an exercise held in Chebarkyl, which may be the Central MD’s continuation of ‘Zapad related training.’

Eastern MD – Spetsnaz units in Khabarovsk Krai were lifted by Mi-8 AMTSh helicopters together with gear and then parachuted in to assault an enemy camp, then deployed for ambush behind enemy lines.

Khabarovsk VVO

Air defense units began an exercise focused on radar detection and tracking in Amur and Primoriye. They’re fielding Nebo and Nebo-SVU radars to detect, identify and track various types of targets. Part of the scenario is looking for sources of jamming and integrating the operating picture between two different air defense zones within the Eastern MD. It comes off like they’re working on dealing with low observation aircraft, because that’s the sort of thing radars of this type are good for. About 500 servicemen involved.

radar screen.jpg

Southern MD – Looks like enemy forces blew up a rail link in Kransodar and specialized technical units must respond to repair it. Railway troops, a CBRN unit, and other brigade elements completed a 200km march to the site, with 1000 servicemen and 200+ pieces of specialized equipment. Enemy forces were present in the area as well to complicate matters, and they had to practice air defense on the way.

railway troops SMD.jpg

Communications technicians created one information network across in N. Caucasus, Abkhazia, Ossetia, Armenia, and much of the Southern MD. Satellite and radio stations exchanged data while being suppressed by EW from enemy drones (probably Leer-3). Encrypted systems include Redut-2YS, MK VKS, and mobile radio stations R-166, R-419-L. About 3500 servicemen and more than 700 various pieces of equipment took part.

Russian units in Abkhazia, together with Abkhaz armed forces, destroyed enemy command posts as part of a recon-strike exercise. At the training ranges Nagvaloy and Tsabal artillery units practiced with 2s3 Akatsya, D-30 122mm towed artillery, and 120mm Sani mortars. BM-21 Grads were deployed, together with drones for targeting and recon. Data from drones was integrated via Strelets (individual soldier system) and artillery systems to deliver on short notice artillery strikes to identified targets. The point of the exercise was to workout integration between reconnaissance and the strike part of the equation. About 500 servicemen took part and 100 pieces of equipment.

Northern Fleet – Out in the Barents the surface action group led by Peter the Great (Kirov-class), together with Marshal Ushakov (Soveremenny-class), defended against a massed enemy air attack with anti-ship cruise missiles (though the targets were fired at a rate of one per minute so not exactly a massed salvo). They were backed by Mig-31s, shooting down six cruise missile targets in total launched by small missile boards (RM-120). The scenario had two phases: in the first Russian ships used their air defenses in collaboration with air support. A few were hit by S-300 Fort, one by Uragan, and two by R-33 air-to-air missiles. Phase two was close in weapons defense, involving one RM-120 target and two decoys to imitate missiles.

Meanwhile in the Arctic, Severomorsk (Udaloy-class) conducted live fire exercises, employing surface to air missiles (Kinzhal), CWIS guns, artillery, and even the troops onboard unloaded RPGs into floating targets. Pantsir-S1 (Arctic variants) practiced against various targets. The head of the Russian Navy, Adm Vladimir Korolev is personally visiting the Northern Fleet. According the MoD that’s a wrap for the North Fleet and they should be turning around for home.

Severomorsk launching Kinzhal


Arctic Pantsir air defense

Arctic Pantsir-S1.jpg

P-15 Termit missile launched by Rubezh coastal defense system


Baltic Fleet – 11th Corps is standing down and returning to their garrisons according to the MoD. Ships are due back in Baltiysk.

Black Sea Fleet – An artillery regiment of the 22nd Army Corps (BSF) is conducting artillery and air defense drills at the Opuk training range. Elements of the separate naval infantry brigade are also involved in this exercise. About 50 pieces of equipment were noted, self-propelled artillery, BM-21 Grad, and Strela-M10 short range air defense systems. The BSF’s Su-24M naval aviation squadron played enemy aviation.


Caspian Flotilla – Starting inspection and preparations across the flotilla’s ships in advance of a large exercise expected in October. Looks like they will have a busy training schedule after Zapad.

Pacific Fleet – Chinese marines are drilling in counter-terrorism at Russia’s Gornostay range, first phase of their joint exercise with PLAN for the coming week.

Russian forces in the Baltic region are beginning to return home, but the op tempo of exercise will continue into Central and Eastern MD. There may be further air defense, radar, and LRA exercises. General purpose ground forces in districts many time zones away from the scenario will continue repelling a conventional adversary as though they are part of the larger fight. Nuclear escalation was not an obvious part of the exercise, but definitely pre-nuclear deterrence was featured in R-500 launches. A more serious analysis to come – this is just a wrap up of the last day.

Notable Photos:

The Army’s strategic resource on the move (mobile kitchen)

the most important vehicle - kitchen


run faster

Plotting which of these kids to leave in Belarus

Mr. Burns

Zapad watch – summary of day six

We’ve almost made it, only one day to go. What could possibly go wrong? Seriously speaking though, other exercises starting up in the Far East suggest that some drills will continue past the September 20th date. Key activities:

  • VDV conducted air drop, raiding, and airbase assault
  • Kaliningrad repelled an enemy attack with a task organized BTG
  • Russia’s Navy fought off surface action groups and amphibious landings in the Barents with ship borne, submarine, and CDCM launches
  • Ground forces employed Iskander-K (R-500)
  • Eastern MD went on alert in preparation for a larger ground force exercise while Central MD’s Tajikistan base also began to run drills
  • VKS were busy intercepting enemy airpower and incoming cruise missiles

BLUF: Russian forces transitioned from simulated to actual strikes and offensive operations. R-500 GLCM was launched from Leningrad Oblast in Western MD. All in all, there was a healthy demonstration of Russia’s long range precision guided munitions, submarine, ship, coastal defense and ground launched. Horizontal escalation could be seen in the Eastern and Central MD. Scenarios unfolded expecting strikes in Central MD, and Eastern MD troops prepared for a large scale exercise in their district to repel ground forces.


Osipovichsky range – Russian and Belarusian ground forces stopped NATO’s advance at the range, 4th Division’s newest motor rifle regiment continues the fight with T-80BV tanks. Artillery units engaged with Tornado-G, MSTA-S, Giatsint, BM-21 Grad. Belarus used Mi-8MTV-5 to ferry Russian airborne units onto the battlefield. Mi-28Ns provided air support in repelling the enemy. Belarusian drones Busel and Berkyt were employed to recon and target enemy positions for their MLRS detachments using BM-30 Smerch and Polonez. Not all went to plan – the weather was terrible and there was a 30 minute operational pause between defense and counter-attack – apparently someone important had to arrive to see the latter part.

T-80BV of 4th Division MRR

Borisovsky – Various combined groupings including VDV, artillery and combat aviation had a day of fighting. Here 6th Tank BDE from 1st Guards Tank Army. Spetsnaz units were shown for the first time, and they highlighted the employment of KRUS ‘Strelets’ systems for navigation, reconnaissance and communication.

Spez Borisovsky

Western MD, where a lot of the action continues (and the occasional live fire accident)

Luzhsky range – Everything was going well, until it wasn’t. A Ka-52 fired S-8 rockets near a crowd of observers. Unclear if it was a weapon malfunction or a judgment malfunction. Three people were hurt, plus a Leer-3 EW vehicle designed to command specialized Orlan drones.

Here is a video of the stike: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=4DGQVkuJ1p8

There’s a site with the helicopter’s gun camera http://www.yapfiles.ru/show/1756678/38dd695ae47ae3c0af890282b013b053.mp4.html

Here is the Leer-3 afterwards.

damaged Kamaz after Ka-52 strike

Pantsir-S1 air defense units practiced against low flying targets, with a An-2 simulating enemies at 50m altitude and 200km speed. Aerosol and smoke cover provided by specialized CBRN support troops. MTO troops continued to do MTO things, lots of fascinating stats were provided on number of mobile kitchens setup, etc.

Luzhsky range 2

Iskander R-500 cruise missile launches. As promised, they went from electronically simulated strikes to actual launches of cruise missiles today. Luzhsky range same some solid escalation.


R-500 launch 3.jpg

Electronic Warfare – Apparently for the first time in exercises EW troops deployed the RB-109A Bylina automatic control system that greatly increases the effectiveness of EW systems, and more importantly eliminates EW fratricide in terms one’s own comms systems. There’s not been much talk about what EW systems are actually being used, although Leer-3 drone EW system has been show multiple times.

VKS Aerospace Forces – Mig-31BMs were busy intercepting incoming cruise missiles fired by enemy planes. They were also engaged in a large air defense operation, intercepting 30 enemy targets approaching the practice ranges in Leningrad Oblast.

VDV Airborne – Another parachuting exercise took place at Strugi Krasniye near Pskov, conducted by the 76h Division based there. Looks like they dropped again near the range, perhaps a different battalion though – since this one had BMD-4Ms in it. Poor weather notwithstanding the drop was made at 800m, with about one battalion of 400 troops and 10 vehicles. After  landing they assaulted an enemy airfield. Then the units conducted a raid with BMD-4M and BTR-MD Rakushka, crossing a some water obstacle in the process (perhaps a small river), and overcoming the muddy ground in the area.

VDV landing

Yep that’s mud

VDV raiding party

Northern Fleet – Peter the Great (Kirov-class) launched five SS-N-19 anti-ship missiles in the Barents Sea at a simulated adversary, together with Admiral Ushakov, which fired a Moskit missile. Alongside the surface action group the live fire exercise was joined by Voronezh and Orel, two Oscar-II SSGNs. Ships in different positions converged missiles on targets at 200-300km range. The goal was to integrate a surface action group, SSGNs, and maritime aviation to service an enemy SAG at sea.

Bastion-P complexes back at the tip of Teriberskiy also fired on enemy forces at sea – range 400km. Yes, that’s right, according to them it was 400km for a complex that officially has a range of 350km in anti-ship  roles 🙂 Bastion goes up to 450km but this supposedly is against surface targets in high-high flight profile trajectory which is not what they were testing. From Kotelniy Island, Rubezh fired two Termit missiles (vintage shorter range systems) at 50km range. An Udaloy class destroyer also conducted live fire drills in the same area. This was the “Arctic defense” part of the exercise. Official numbers for Northern Fleet participation are 5,000 troops and 300 pieces of equipment.

Baltic Fleet/Kaliningrad – Pravdinsky range where most of the Baltic Fleet’s 11th Army Corps is drilling had its largest day of battle. BMD-2 vehicles suggest VDV was present in support of motor rifle units together with artillery. Orlan-10 and Grusha drones were employed throughout training, while naval aviation provided  support (Su-24 + Su-34). They also had Platforma-M combat UGVs. The mission was straightforward, they found a ‘diversionary group’ and had to march 60km to engage it. The forces were task organized with units from the motor rifle regiment, reinforced by artillery, and airborne units. After forcing a retreat, with Mi-24 helicopters and MLRS systems the enemy was chased down and destroyed.  Weather continued to be poor, nothing but rain.

Baltic Fleet.jpg

Bal coastal defense units engaged enemy ships with anti-ship missiles along with those fired by a Steregushchiy corvette. The coastal defense missile battery hit a target at sea, while one of the corvettes fired a Uran missiles (sea based variant of same Kh-35). Enemy forces  supposedly had jamming and EW. Unclear how that was simulated, perhaps another ship since they were also practicing EW at sea.


Black Sea Fleet – Admiral Grigorovich frigate and the fleet’s newest corvette, Vyshniy Volochek, put to sea for some sea trials and practiced air defense. Turks are visiting Novorossiysk with a LST for some sort of port of call.

Southern MD – Logistics units in Abkhazia, at the Tsabal range, trained in deploying a modern mobile communications system (Redut) in mountainous terrain which allows one to setup a unified radio communications network. They practiced setting up 32m antenna masts to establish a 2 mbps/sec network. This is much lower bandwidth than what’s up at Western MD but still quite interesting. The soldiers worked to setup communications at different frequencies and video conferencing (wonder how well their VTC technology works, and if its anything like ours…). Around 300 servicemen and 100 pieces of specialized equipment took part. Some named pieces of kit include Artek station mounted on a BTR-80, satellite communications Liven on an Ural base, radiorelay L1 on Kamaz.

southen MD Redut setup

Eastern MD – About 3000 troops and 500 pieces of equipment are deploying various drills on Sakhalin. Their large scale exercise is just beginning it seems. The war finally spread to the far east, and they too must find enemy recon groups and prepare to defend against enemy ground forces. T-72B tanks, BM-27 Uragan, BM-21 Grad and Giatsint-S systems will be deployed. Drone support includes Orlan and Zastava, while air support consists of Su-25s and Mi-8AMTSh helicopters. Supposedly various flamethrower units will be used as well.  In Zabaykalsky Krai (borders Mongolia) Russian S-300 units began drills in defending key MoD infrastructure. About 200 servicemen and 40 pieces of equipment involved.

Far East MD troops

Central MD -Tajikistan suddenly came alive. Seems Russian soldiers from 201st based there were airlifted to seize the command post of enemy bandits/diversionary groups. CBRN troops deployed heavy smoke and aerosols to cover movement of forces. Meanwhile in Republic of Khakassia railway forces began training in bridge laying 4 bridges with a cumulative length of 1000m across a river.  The scenario is quite interesting, some naughty adversary fired PGMs and destroyed the railway bridge over the river Enisey. Hence about 1500 servicemen and 550 pieces of specialized equipment have been raised on alert to restore the railway link across the river. Interesting assumption that Russian interior lines of communication could be severed at this stage of the conflict and railway troops are ready to be summoned in order to restore them (could be US or China really that’s to blame).

railway troops CMD

Notable photos:

Spetsnaz kill (element of surprise possibly ruined by photographer standing right there)

the surprize attack might have been ruined by the photographer being present.jpg

Foreign observers (is that a selfie moment in progress?)


Zapad watch – summary of day five

With phase two in full swing and Vladimir Putin now observing, there is action almost everywhere. The past few days have been lively, and somewhat hard to cover so in this post I’m summarizing some other MD’s events that were glossed over earlier.

BLUF: Russian forces are having a conventional high end fight across a 600km front in the Western MD, fleets are defending against enemy amphibious landings, airborne units are doing more drops, missile regiments have started live fire exercises with you guessed it – missiles. So we have horizontal escalation to different fronts and vertical escalation with Russian forces launching SRBM/Cruise missile strikes. The Russian Navy is defending littorals and maritime approaches as expected, recons strike complex is being tested in support of artillery, while airborne and ground forces are working together in defeating concentrated enemy formations. Special designation and special purpose units are also quite active across the districts.


Osipovichskiy Range: The new Motor Rifle Regiment (423rd) of the 4th Division (1st Guards Tank Army) is training here with armor, motorized infantry, artillery, and air defense units. Seems this regiment was snapped together with a T-80BV battalion supporting it (4th DIV still has T-80 variants). My understanding is that a 3rd maneuver regiment was added to this division as of last year and is slowly being manned and equipped. MTO and engineering units are busy with camouflage and fortifications, meanwhile the T-80s are running a tank carousel, i.e. shoot and scoot drills.T-80

Another participant at this range is Belarus’ 120th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade, they fielded armor, artillery and air defense in support of Russian forces. (4th Tank Division also seems to be in Syria supporting the push outside Deir-ez-Zor with pontoon bridges and logistics, so this unit is basically everywhere right now).

smerch 2

Borisovsky range is active too, but I gave it lots of coverage during the last post. Suffice to say they’re still winning over there and no doubt NATO forces are dying left and right.

Western MD

Luzhsky range (outside Luga) – As expected Putin came to Luzhsky range in Leningrad Oblast for the main event. There he took some lazy photo ops pretending to hold binoculars without looking at them, because they had large monitors setup in front of the glass showing the events, which were also taking place right in front of the window. Russian MoD brought out newer T-90M, T-80BVM upgrade and BMPT to show off in front of the leadership.

Large monitor screens in front of the window somewhat block the binoculars, he’s just holding them seemingly annoyed for the photographer to take this photo op

Putin and crew

Not even faking it

Putin and Gerasimov.JPG

Su-24Ms did a large bombing run at the range, while Su-25s were busy killing enemy convoys. Su-24MP recon variants provided targeting data, along with drones. Mi-28Ns, Ka-52s and Mi-35M helicopters all had a busy day.

Mi-28N at Luzhsky.JPG

Russian forces practiced employing drones as part of a recon strike complex, including artillery recon systems such as Aistenok, targeting and communications system Strelets, along with artillery systems MSTA-B, MSTA-S, BM-21 Grad, and Sani. The goal was to practice command and control of different types of forces, together with EW and air defense units in support, while recon assets fed targeting data in real time. Seems they were using precision munitions too, Krasnopol and Smelchak.

Lots of different types of units drilling at Luzhsky today and Strugi Krasniye (where the 76th Pskov seems to be). Sprut and Shturm-S tank destroyers got to do live fire exercises, along with Kornet ATGMs and Shmels with thermobaric rounds. Engineers practiced demining with UR-77 systems, while combat medics trained in evacuating the wounded from the field of battle. Russian and Belarusian MP units are guarding field command posts, defusing enemy IEDs and the like.

Bridging and MTO

At Kaputsin Yar in Astrakhan, news read that Iskander-M units ran combat launches at 480km range, hitting Makat fire range. In reality it seems to have been R-500 cruise missile variant.

Units named so far as participating include 25th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade, 138th Motor Rifle Brigade and 2nd Tamanskaya Division. About 600km wide front in terms of engagement according to Col-General Kartapolov, cdr of Western MD.

T-90M and BMPT at Luzhsky

T-90M and BMPT

VDV (Airborne) – The big day has basically arrived, VDV Divisions from Tula, Ivanovo and Pskov which had been first raised on alert on the 14th began marches to training ranges and loading onto Il-76s. 76th had already been engaged and doing combat drops, while 98th was getting ready for a drop yesterday. Looks like they did an air drop in bad weather later during the day, rain and low altitude cloud cover. I would expect 400-450 troops per air drop + 9-10 vehicles based on the preparations reported previously. About 10 Il-76s employed, seems the drop zone was Luzhsky range. One battalion from each division is likely to do an air drop during this exercise.

Before drop

vdv airborne

At the range


VKS (Aerospace Forces) – 6th Air and Air Defense Army had a lively day. Weather was bad, but Su-35s escorted Il-76s with VDV onboard to the drop zones. Combat aviation supported the airborne during their drop. Meanwhile Tu-22M3s practiced bombing runs against targets.

Northern Fleet – Peter the Great’s (Kirov-class) surface action group with a Sovremenny destroyer ran live fire exercises defending against enemy forces attempting to land marines on Sredniy Peninsula (just north of Murmansk). Enemy marines also tried to land on Ribachi peninsula to seize strategically vital terrain, where they were met with Russian naval infantry. Apparently Russian units, formed as a reinforced battalion, had to travel 100km to engage the assaulting marines with Su-24Ms and Mi-8 helicopters in support. About 600 naval infantry, 12 BTR-82As, and several artillery  units  were involved. Drones were use to correct ship artillery fire.

North Fleet Naval Inf.JPG

Baltic Fleet – Russian naval infantry and special designation units were busy at Khmelevka range and defending against enemy landings. Some of Baltic Fleet’s naval infantry took positions on the beach, holding ground in Kaliningrad. They dug in with T-72B1 tanks, BMP-2s, tank destroyers and other hardware. Naval infantry also conducted an amphibious landing from LST’s with BTR-82As swimming ashore and Ka-27 helicopters unloading infantry on the beach. Seems to have been a lively scene, Mi-35Ms were overhead, lots of flares and smoke. Photos suggest some units were practicing mine laying just off the beach as well. At Pravdinsky range Spetz units were busy with tactical exercises taking out diversionary groups and ‘illegal armed formations,’ basically urban assault against  infiltrators in buildings. Everyone seems to be complaining that the weather was bad. CBRN troops were working on fighting chemical weapons on a floating platform just off the beach.

Baltic Naval Infantry landing

LST landing.jpg

Defending force

more naval infantry photos

You can tell its raining (looks like B1/BA mix)

Pravdinsky in the raine.jpg

Black Sea Fleet – Outside Novorossiysk, in Tsemes Bay, the BSF nailed an enemy submarine (sorry Turkey). Apparently it tried to sneak in while enemy high speed boats were distracting the defending ships. The enemy submarine manage to land enemy divers, but specialized Russian PDSS diver units found them, meanwhile a small anti-submarine ship (Povorino) sunk the enemy submarine with depth charges. Situational awareness provided by Orlan-10 and Electron drones. BSF minesweepers and small missile boats (about 2) were also involved in various drills outside Sevastopol, minesweeping, artillery and missile fires, etc. Be-12 maritime patrol craft and Su-30SMs supported the operations.

Eastern MD – In Khabarovsk the Eastern MD began some sort of ‘special tactical training’ with Spetz units. Seems they did an air drop by parachute and via Mi-8AMTsh helicopters at night. Probably a Spetsnaz unit. In Primorye, at Turgenevsky trange, specialized units in CBRN trained in dealing with chemical warfare. Apparently enemy diversionary groups got this far and had chemical weapons with them. Although part of the exercise seems to be dealing with potential chemical or ammonia leaks from a factory, evacuating civilians, clearing gases and chemicals, so it is perhaps oriented towards consequences of damage to industrial facilities. A host of specialized equipment being used: RHM-6, TMS-65U, ARS-14KM, and smoke machines for cover TDA-3 (the latter part is to cover the movement of ground forces). About one battalion, 500 men and 100 vehicles involved in this exercise.

eastern md.jpg

Southern MD (catching up on this one) – 8th Combined Arms Army, the latest CAA setup with Ukraine as its primary contingency, concluded its exercise at the Prydboi (Volgograd oblast) training range. The news is odd, says concluded but other info suggests the exercise is still ongoing. A mix of units including T-90A, BMP-3, MSTA-S, Tornado-G, and 120mm Hosta were involved. Drones were also an important part of the exercise, providing real time situational awareness to commanders, reconnaissance of routes for armored columns, etc. About 2000 men and 500 pieces of equipment were involved from motor rifle detachments of the Southern MD based in Rostov and Volgograd regions. Artillery units participating counted 500 men and 100 various systems.  Seems they’re wrapping up as the main piece  of Zapad is just launching, likely offset so as not to scare neighboring countries too much.

Fairly large scale exercise with elements of the 49th CAA taking place, including Stavropol, Krasnodar regions, and Abkhazia. Motor Rifle units from a mountain brigade in Karachay-Cherkessia (Stavropol) had been drilling since September 15 at Zalenchyski range. Seems about 1300 men and 250 pieces of equipment listed, drilling with Olran-10 drones, EW companies, Spetz units, and specialized logistics detachments. They even used horses from the logistics unit, which apparently has 80 of them, to drag a Podnos mortar unit onto one of the mountains at 4000m altitude.

Central MD – Air Defense Units have been practicing at Ashylyk in Astrakhan throughout the Zapad exercise, but it is somewhat co-mingled with the ‘Combat Commonwealth 2017’ exercise done with CIS members. A bit hard to tell which is which 🙂  Anyway in Tuva a mountain motor rifle brigade was concluding its exercises. They fielded a BTG against an enemy equipped with drones, EW, and other high end equipment. About 1000 men, 100 pieces of equipment were involved. This seems to be the light brigade in Central MD, based on Tigr vehicles.


Earlier on during the exercise at Totsk range in Orenburg artillery and armor units from Central MD ran live fire exercises with T-72B3 tanks and MLRS systems, about 2000 men and 400 pieces of equipment listed for that one. I hadn’t mentioned it earlier because those units in Orenburg were raised on alert 12th September, before Zapad started (sneaky sneaky) and hence was never part of my coverage. Meanwhile about 1000 men from an air defense units were drilling at Kaputsin Yar, with Tunguska, Buk-M2, Tor-M1 and Strela-10.


Notable photos:

Russian psychological eval unit torturing soldiers in preparation for exercise (looks like they’re picking out wall paint colors)

physchological preparation

Deputy commander of 3rd MRR 4th Division and his command kit (lots of colors)

here is the tank battalion deputy commander

Baltic Fleet CBRN unit (this looks like fun)


Teenage angst in T-80BV

not having the best day.jpg

Zapad watch – summary of day four

Phase Two of Zapad is upon us, i.e. the main stage of the exercise. Most of the designated forces have arrived at their ranges, dug in and started exercises. At sea simulated electronic fires took place, but will turn into actual launches in the coming days. Putin is coming on Monday to the live fire exercises in Leningrad Oblast (Luzhsky range outside Luga) so everyone has to look really good at whatever they’re doing tomorrow. Odds are the big show really kicks off when he gets there.

BLUF: Russian ground forces spent the day fighting NATO formations, airborne units, and leveling things with artillery. Logistics units were busily setting up fuel dumps, comm systems, forward command posts and the like. Engineers and sappers worked on demining. The Navy got really busy, sinking NATO submarines in the Baltic and wiping out surface action groups in the Barents, while VKS and combat aviation provided close air support.


Borisovsky Training Range (right outside Borisov in Belarus): Latest T-72B3s from 1st Guards Tank Army continued practice at the range, this is likely 6th Separate Tank Brigade and maybe elements of the 4th Kantemirovskaya Division. They wiped out remaining diversionary groups and of course crushed the enemy’s main forces. Other ranges, including Luzhsky, Pravdinsky, and Strugi Krasniye had similar tasks.

T-72B3 + BMPs

The Western MD’s independent MTO brigade (material technical support) setup a fuel dump at Borisovksy supposedly big enough for 120 tanker trucks (600 cubic meters of different fuel types).

If you want to see what real maskirovka looks like when done by professionals, you have to check out the situation around Borisovsky. It’s quite impressive.

BRM-1K recon vehicle (gold medal for camo job)

BRM-1K recon

Forests around the range full of polite looking people


Waiting for NATO (sorry Veishnoria or whatever)

Osipovichskiy Training Range (outside Asipovichy in Belarus): Russian detachments began taking up defensive positions, while sapper units practiced demining. Seems things are just getting started at this range, but probably will host live fire exercises from airborne and ground units in the coming days.

(hope this photo is right, it’s what the MoD posted but that’s no guarantee of accuracy)

BMDs at Osipovichskiy

Western MD

Luzhsky Training Range (at Luga): MSTA-S artillery and mortar units spent the day in live fire exercises at Luga. These appear to be from the artillery regiment assigned to the Tamanskaya Division (1st Guards Tank Army). Other equipment included MSTA-B and BM-21 Grad.

Judging from the photos the weather was uncooperative.

looks like rain

Motor rifle units are practicing here as well, apparently they engaged and wiped out enemy airborne units after drawing them into a kill zone. In this scenario the NATO airborne units were mounted on high mobility but lightly armored equipment, meanwhile Russian forces consisted of a tank battalion and self-propelled artillery in support. It sounds like Operation Market Garden all over again and Russian forces got to play the role of the Panzer division.

2nd Division practicing fires

UAV units are also training at Luga, supposedly more than 30 systems have been employed for recon and ISR, particularly to provide targeting coordinates for artillery. Apparently aerostats, or unmanned balloons are also being used. Su-25s were overhead as well destroying enemy armored columns with Su-35s providing air cover. Seems mostly unguided rocket and gun fire.


Combat aviation took out over 20 enemy vehicles, helicopters training include Ka-52 and Mi-28N. Their job was recon and close air support. Same as Su-25s, training only listed unguided weapons – possibly saving money given there are three more days. Su-24s did some bombing runs at a range in Kaliningrad to wipe out enemy command points and other fixed targets.

Some new command and control equipment is being tested out this time at Zapad, including a high bandwidth system (1MB-20GB). There was news early on a few days ago of logistics units setting up this communications system.

VDV Airborne – VDV were busy setting field command posts and communications equipment for encrypted comms. Their range seems to be Strugi Krasniye near Pskov where the 76th is based.

Raining here too


VKS Aerospace Forces – Ground based air defense and air superiority fighters were busy defending against enemy air strikes. S-400, S-300, Pantsir-S1 were working with radar systems Nebo, Kasta and Podlet, along with command and control system Fundament. Air cover provided by Mig-31, Su-35s, and Su-27 variants. Enemy forces as usual were simulated by Russian forces, including combat aviation. Apparently Tu-22M3 bombers practiced attack runs at low and high altitude. Seems this is taking place by Kaliningrad and likely the range near Luga.

Northern Fleet – A surface action group led by Peter the Great (Kirov-class guided missile cruiser) launched anti-ship missiles at an amphibious landing group in the Barents Sea (the actual enemy stand ins were tugs SB-523 and Nikolay Chiker). Targeting support provided by Il-38 from naval aviation and it seems a SSN was also around to finish off the enemy with torpedo attacks. For now strikes are being simulated electronically but supposedly live fire missile strikes are yet to come in the next 3 days.

Two Oscar II SSGNs (Project 949A) ventured out and sunk an enemy surface action group in the Barents Sea. Scouting was first done by a diesel-electric Kilo (877) from the Kola Flotilla together with a Tu-142 long range maritime patrol aircraft. These were simulated fires with live fire exercises still to come, but the setup was interesting.


Baltic Fleet – The Baltic Fleet had a good day, seems their Ka-27PL helicopters found and sunk an enemy submarine with depth charges – and then they supported the rest of the fleet in sinking another one. That’s two NATO submarines sunk in a day’s work.

Southern MD – Ashylyk range near Astrakhan is hosting various air defense exercises although it’s unclear if they’re part of Zapad or another multinational event that’s supposed to take place called Combat Commonwealth 2017. Su-34s are also drilling overhead. Combat Commonwealth 2017 began on September 4th, with countries of the CIS including Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyz Republic and Armenia. These will feature air defense, aerospace forces and combat aviation.

Eastern MD – PLA Navy ships arrived in Vladivostok in preparation for upcoming naval exercises with the Pacific Fleet which will take place 18-26 September. Phase one will be coastal defense and phase two at sea north of Hokkaido with 11 ships involved altogether.

Notable photos:

BMP-2 (someone went pro at maskirovka olympics)

best maskirovka ever

Artillery fire near Luga

Luga artillery live fire

MSTA-S being camouflaged (really strange looking trees)

ugly trees

T-90M and BMPT are making an appearance at the training range by Luga


Zapad watch – summary of day three

Well the good news is that phase one ended today and we’re all still here. The bad news is that means phase two starts tomorrow. Phase one is best summarized as the defensive component of the exercise. Russian forces spent their time sorting out command and control, deploying forces to theater and forming a regional combat grouping out of the different types of forces under their command, along with planning out strategic operations. I guess phase two is when they’re going to do NATO rotten.

In phase one the VKS spent its time defending key civilian infrastructure, conducting reconnaissance, escorting rebasing long range aviation and taking down enemy cruise missiles in coordination with ground based air defense. Borisovksy and Osipovichesky practice ranges saw lots of action today, where  enemy diversionary groups were successfully taken out.

The results of phase one are in: Russia and Belarus successfully defended against an attack from NATO members and inflicted high costs during the enemy’s advance. Phase Two will involve maneuver warfare and offensive operations to destroy adversary forces, along with a strong focus on logistics. The ranges hosting most of the live fire exercises include Borisovsky in Belarus and Luga in Leningrad Oblast (south of St Petersburg)

BLUF: Russian forces spent their time conducting strikes with fixed wing and rotary aviation, armor and artillery units engaged the enemy, VDV was busy shooting down drones, logistics units and engineers had a lot of work supporting operations, and the Baltic Fleet sortied out to fight.

VKS (Aerospace Forces) – Su-35s escorted Su-34s on strike missions. The Su-34s hit targets at Kingisep practice range, wiping out enemy armored formations and mechanized infantry. Su-24MPs did the recon ahead of the Su-34 strike package (which is odd given there are plenty of drones now to do this type of job). Seems this was an exercise chiefly with dumb unguided bombs, leveraging SVP-24 Gefest system for more accurate bombing with unguided munitions. Other VKS units spent their time dogfighting and striking enemy logistics units. Su-27s and Su-24s stood in for enemy forces. The Russian air superiority team included Su-27s, Su-35s, Su-30SMs and Mig-31s. Their target set ranged from enemy aircraft to cruise missiles.

VDV (Airborne) – Detachments from the three divisions involved in Zapad were busy with air defense against enemy drones, namely the 76th at Pskov. Seems they shot down more than 40 drones with Strela-10M, Igla MANPADS and ZU-23 artillery. Other VDV units focused on command and control, setting up field units with Polet-K and Andromeda-D systems (based on BTR platforms). Supposedly 30 command vehicles were deployed during this phase, setting up comms in the 500-2000km range. VDV detachments from 106th Tula Division tried out new gear for the first time during an exercise, seems BMD-4M and BTR-MDM (Rakushka). No word on what the 98th was doing, but no doubt they’re winning somewhere.

VDV command and control.jpg

Seems another battalion of VDV is getting ready for airdrop, 400 soldiers and 10 vehicles aboard 10 Il-76s are getting ready according to the MoD.

Meanwhile in Belarus

At the Borisovsky range MSTA-S self-propelled artillery took up positions, while armored columns from 1st Tank Guards Army (likely 6th BDE) arrived to shoot things. Most of the action was at Osipovichsky and Borisovsky ranges, where diversionary-reconnaissance groups were being killed all day long. Supposedly the weather is less than amenable, but elements of the 1st Tank Army are at the training ranges as planned. Seems this is the first exercise where the latest variants of T-72B3 tanks are being tried out, presumably this is the upgrade with a better engine and sidescreens.


MTO units (material-technical support) were busy setting up repair fields to restore damaged equipment at the live fire ranges in Belarus. Their job is to train in evacuating and repairing damaged tanks and mechanized equipment. The unit in question is the Western MD’s independent MTO brigade. Some of the gear includes KET-L, BTS-4, along with BZEM-K and TPM, along with MTO-UB-2 Ural. The MTO brigade brought mobile repair shops with it, equipped with BAKM 1040 BK cranes.

MTO units.jpg

Russian military police on BTR-82As practiced receiving surrenders of wounded enemy soldiers. NATO diversionary groups had a rough day at several points and had to give up.


Western MD

2nd Tamanskaya Division (1st Guards Tank Army) finally showed itself. It’s artillery regiment was at Luga  firing from MSTA-B towed artillery and BM-21 Grad MLRS. Iskander-M and older Tochka-U missile units were busy simulated electronic fires in Leningrad Oblast, presumably these are missile regiments from Kaliningrad which still has Tochka-U and Leningrad Oblast which was upgraded to Iskanders a long time ago. Their targets were massed enemy armor formations in the 30-100km range. Other artillery and mortar units involved in this live fire exercise employed 2S12 Sani mortars, 2B14 Podnos mortars, and Tornado MLRS.

Engineer-sapper units were supplying drinking water using SKO-10 purifying stations, along with three square meals a day. This is apparently an accomplishment. Others were busy clearing mine fields ahead of the ground forces’ advance.  Meanwhile MTO units in Leningrad Oblast were practiced extraction and repair of damaged armor and mechanized equipment near the Luga firing range. Other duties included your run of the mill setting up field bases, ammo dumps, repair and overhaul facilities. They spent the day repairing T-72B3 tanks, BTR-82A APCs, and BMP-2 IFVs.

Mi-35M, Ka-52, and Mi-8AMTSh helicopters from the combat aviation brigade were also at the Luga training range destroying enemy armor and equipment. S-400, S-300 and Pantsir-S1 systems were deployed to provide air defense in the region.

Mi-35 at luga.jpg

Not much word from other districts, somewhat drowned out by all the inane awards from the Army 2017 games. It seems Russia’s info operation sees Zapad 2017 and the Army games as on par in importance.

Central MD – S-400 units moved out to Ashylyk range in Astrakhan near the border with Kazakhstan.

Central MD S-400.jpg

Baltic Fleet – 11th Army Corps had a lot on their hands in Kaliningrad. Some practiced urban assault and retaking positions held by diversionary groups. The T-72B1 equipped tank battalion rolled out to engage enemy forces supported by artillery detachments with 2S3 Akatsya, BM-21 Grads and towed artillery. The 11th Army Corps has somewhat antiquated equipment but it’s good enough.

The Baltic Fleet’s minesweepers ventured out, including two project 12700 and three older project 10750s, to practice clearing contact and non-contact mines. Four Steregushchiy-class corvettes were busy with air defense drills. Russian Su-24s and Ka-27 helicopters served as simulated enemy targets. The corvettes ran short range live fire exercises and over the horizon drills against enemy coastal defenses that were beyond visual sight. About 20 ships of various classes sortied out from the Baltic Fleet, including the bigger corvettes, missile boats and minesweepers.

Notable photos:

Russia’s MoD started the day off by tweeting ‘good morning’ with this photo

good morning vietnam.jpg

Sappers clearing mines (I don’t know why but spacemen with flyswatters look funny)

Zapad watch – summary of day two

Day two of Zapad saw Russian forces continue to fight off air attacks and incoming cruise missiles, but logistics units were getting in place to enable force flow into Belarus. As the adage goes, amateurs talk tactics while professionals talk logistics. Day 2 events include:

  • engineers setting pontoon bridges
  • communications arrays going up to establish a common operating picture
  • smokescreens to cover ground movements
  • air power coordinated with ground based air defense in covering the ground force
  • the Navy practicing ASW, air defense, and counter sabotage
  • numerous live fire drills with artillery, armor, air defense and combat aviation

Western MD

Joint drills started in earnest between Russia and Belarus today. Armored and motor rifle battalions engaged in live fire exercises, tactical aviation and bombers flew overhead. A lot of ammo expended into targets at firing ranges. Belarus Air Force helped provide air cover for Russian ground units and armored formations moving into theater, run by a combined staff composed of officers from both countries. Part of the mission included recon flights over enemy formations.

Most of the action right now is at the Luga (south of St Petersburg) range which is seeing lots of artillery fires. From self-propelled and towed artillery to TOS-1A and Grad MLRS, Russia’s artillery units are letting loose. The combat aviation brigade is practicing at the same range, Ka-52s along with other helicopters.

(autobots assemble – activate tree camouflage)

tanks and BREM.jpg


Pontoon bridges are going up for armor to roll into Belarus. Engineers and sappers are building trenches, fortifications and setting up the logistics for ground forces to move in. CBRN troops put up an aerosol smokescreen at medium altitude near the Luga training field in an effort to cover troop movements. The screen covered a bridging operation (TMM-3 mechanical bridge) to defend against enemy air attack while forces were on the move.

Comms troops setup a high bandwidth comm systems running around 1000km between Russia and Belarus. This part is particularly interesting, since it reflects how Russia plans to maintain command and control, shield communications, and create a common operating picture of the battlefield. So far the coverage shows systems that go down to the battalion rather than company/squad level.

engineer troops.jpg

VKS – Aerospace Forces

Su-35s fighters escorted Tu-22M3 bombers to their forward airbases and have now arrived in Leningrad Oblast. Western MD’s lead in air power for this exercise seems to be 6th Air Force and Air Defense Army. As mentioned yesterday one Tu-22M3 ran off the runway and crashed.

VDV – VDV units in Rys light armored vehicles conducted recon in force missions around Pskov. The 76th is supposed to deploy in Leningrad Oblast and Kaliningrad later on during this exercise.

VDV on Rys.jpg

Central MD – This district is not only taking part in Zapad but prepping for joint exercises with Uzbekistan in early October. Interestingly air defense units with S-300 are shifting to the far east, Telemba range in Buryatia, to conduct live fire exercises as part of Zapad.

Eastern MD – Air defense units are headlong into live fire drills at Telemba, with 10 combat launches of later generation S-300 systems. Meanwhile Su-34 bombers from Khabarovsk are training in night time operations. Further east the air units based in Kamchatka have been raised on alert, with about 30 planes including Tu-142M3s, Mig-31BMs, and Il-38s conducting sorties.


Southern MD – Marines from the Caspian Flotilla held the line against enemy forces on the coast of Dagestan in time for airborne reinforcements. Not much info coming out of this district so far.

Around the Fleets

Northern Fleet – Units of the 14th Army Corps in Pechenga near Murmansk deployed several battalions from its motor rifle brigades for live fire exercises, defending against land and air attacks. This drill ran the gamut from T-72B3 tanks, artillery, MLRS, and infantry in trenches defending against an attacking ground force. About 1,500 troops were involved with 300 pieces of equipment. Peter the Great (Kirov-class) and Admiral Ushakov (Sovremenny-class) spent their time taking out incoming cruise missiles together with Mig-29K fighters operating from land.

shoot em in the face.JPG

Baltic Fleet – High speed boats and patrol ships worked with PDSS special diver units to battle enemy diversionary forces all day. Some PDSS divers stood in for the enemy, no doubt Navy SEALS, while the rest worked to defend against them. Corvettes were busy with air defense against incoming enemy aircraft.

Pacific Fleet – A project 971 Akula SSN (Kuzbass) and project 667BDR Delta III SSBN (Ryazan) ran a mock torpedo duel. The Delta was looking to handle an attack by an adversary SSN penetrating the SSBN bastion. The Pacific Fleet will also hold drills with China September 26 after Zapad, both in Sea of Japan and Sea of Okhotsk off the coast of Hokkaido. This is the second part of a naval exercise held in the Baltic Sea in July.

On the lighter side

It can’t be all gloom and doom. If you’re busy fighting NATO at the Luga firing range south of St. Petersburg then there’s good news, Russian armed forces setup a 100 person field movie theater to boost morale. I saw a photo of it and now can’t find it to post. And yes, there’s wi-fi so you can selfie every aspect of the exercise. There’s also a store to buy various Army kitsch – not sure what it looks like but probably “I defeated NATO in glorious existential battle for the motherland and all I got was this t-shirt.”

Notable photos:

Gerasimov calling SACEUR. (good photo for a ‘caption this’ contest)

Gerasimov doing Gerasimov things.jpg

CBRN troops totally covered, except the part between his gloves and sleeve. That guy is probably going to die to chemical weapons NATO doesn’t have.

pxb troops


Zapad watch – summary of day one

Zapad is here! Well it actually arrived some days ago, as there were an awful lot of command post exercises and live fire drills already in recent weeks. Officially though this is the first day of Russian military armageddon –  so here is a quick and unvarnished roundup of some of the events taking place.

On the 14th Russian armed forces were roused out of bed to fight an advanced conventional adversary with a pretty solid global force at their disposal. Phase one was supposed to be about handling diversionary groupings in Belarus, but suffice it to say things escalated pretty quickly. Day 1 activities include:

  • defending against air attack and numerous cruise missile strikes with ground based air defenses and tactical aviation
  • airlifting engineers and support crews to forward airfields ahead of aviation
  • getting armor loaded at rail hubs for transportation to Belarus
  • airdropping VDV units to defend against enemy recon elements
  • deploying screens and getting ships underway under incoming enemy fire
  • numerous live fire exercises for artillery units, air defense units, and the navy

BLUF: As Russian forces prepared to deploy to the region they got hit with a sizable aerospace attack. Day one was about logistics, defending against a capable air power on different fronts, and engaging lead elements of the enemy force near Belarus.

A word on sourcing: the information comes from official MoD briefings, releases, photos. The analysis is my own, listing what happened and explaining what it means. It is not derived or borrowed from other analysis. Occasionally I also found good photos from blogs of journalists who were physically at the exercise.

VDV – Airborne

The Airborne units involved so far include battalions from Pskov (76th), Tula (106th) and Ivanovo (98th). They were alerted Thursday morning, grabbed gear and fell out to meet airlift. So far maybe 2-3 battalions out of three airborne divisions are engaged. One battalion of 76th Pskov VDV, along with 10 BMD vehicles, had been airdropped into combat near Pskov. They prevented ‘diversionary groups’ from penetrating Russia’s borders in the region. This is supposed to be a vanguard action, taking out enemy recon units, and conducting reconnaissance-in-force. It’s unclear if the baddies are Latvian or Estonian, but supposedly the Russian airborne did a great job sabotaging the advance of their recon elements and reporting on larger formations behind enemy lines. Later on Russian airborne is supposed to deploy to Belarus and perhaps reinforce Kaliningrad as well.

Airborne drop.jpg

VKS – Aerospace Forces

Tactical, combat, and long range aviation in the Western MD is preparing to rebase to forward airbases to participate in Zapad. This will include airfields in Belarus. About 20 flights so far on Il-76MD delivered engineers and support crews to forward air bases ahead of the actual aviation expected to arrive soon. Meanwhile much of the VKS is busy repelling air attacks and cruise missile strikes across Russia. Air defense units around St. Petersburg, most likely in the 6th CAA, were already conducting live fire drills to defend against an aerospace attack. Systems involved include S-400, S-300, and Pantsir-S1 short range air defense. Air defense units around Moscow were similarly engaged to repel air strikes and cruise missiles. This thing escalated rather quickly it seems. Russian radar crews practiced against enemy aircraft simulated by a range of Russian platforms, including: Su-34, Su-35, Tu-134, An-26, Mi-8 and Ka-52 helicopters.

One Tu-22M3 was already lost in a crash in Kaluga Oblast near Belarus. They were clearly shifting long range aviation from Irkutsk, an airbase named Belaya to ‘forward base’ Shaikovka by Belarus and something went wrong upon landing. Photo at the end.

A lot of stuff coming at VKS all day



Some of the Northern Fleet’s principal surface combatants, including the nuclear powered missile cruiser Peter the Great and a Sovremenny destroyer (Admiral Ushakov), put to sea to escape incoming strikes. Several missile boats and minesweepers deployed to Kola Bay to fight diversionary groups. Russian ships used aerosol sprays to hide key naval facilities, although more than likely this was practice to cover the preparation and departure of other ships from satellites. Supposedly 20 or so surface combatants will take place in this week’s maneuvers, including up to 10 submarines and 20 support vessels. One task force of ships departed for the New Siberian Islands. Overall the Northern Fleet’s drills will involve approximately 5,000 personnel.

The Baltic Fleet was in some serious danger, defending against an enemy who was conducting cruise missile strikes at a rate of seven hits per minute (this seems oddly slow actually). In defense of their comrades at sea the tiny naval aviation component launched Su-27s to shoot down incoming missiles and aircraft. Meanwhile S-300s and S-400s were providing long range air defense. The navy was also practicing air defense and simulating fires electronically. Russian Su-34s stood in for adversary aviation, and the exercise conditions were based around electronic jamming degrading the effectiveness of Russian air defense units.


Elements of 1st Tank Guards Army began their march towards firing ranges in Belarus. The 6th Independent Tank Brigade, expected to participate in this exercise, was raised on alert and moved to a rail hub for loading. No official word on other regiments but elements of 2nd and 4th divisions are definitely expected to participate in this event. Once they’re moved by rail to Belarus the brigade’s first job is to arrive at a designated staging area and group with other regional forces into a task force.

Other Military Districts

Eastern MD – taking off from Khabarovsk Su-35s destroyed an enemy field camp and supplies. Not sure where this camp and supplies were, but this thing escalated horizontally pretty fast. As part of the operation they practiced evading enemy air defenses at different altitudes. An Iskander unit moved out to conduct live fire exercises at the Kaputsin Yar firing range. The day before artillery units were already in live fire training with self-propelled artillery (2s1 and 2s3) along with Tornado-G MLRS. VKS units are practicing with S-300 at a firing range in Telemba, jointly with Su-30SM fighters from Khabarovsk.

Gvozdika firing line.jpg

Central MD – More than 500 soldiers from special designation units, including Spetsnaz were raised on alert in Samara and moved out to hold exercises near Novaya Binardka. This particular set of drills will be observed by officers from Uzbekistan’s general staff. The day before it seems Caspian Flotilla marines were practicing at firing ranges in Dagestan. Their task is chiefly interdiction of enemy marine forces landing from the Caspian.

CMD Spetz.jpg

Southern MD – there was a large command post exercise on the 12th and several live fire exercises by ships of the BSF on September 7th. Not much news coming out of Southern MD but it will undoubtedly get more active. Some info coming out of Ukraine about bridging equipment being moved about in DNR/LNR territory – hard to nail down details though.

Meanwhile in Syria

Two project 636.3 Kilos fired Kalibr land attack cruise missiles into Syria. Combat firing at fixed targets in Syria seems to be the standard induction procedure for new Kilos arriving for service in the BSF. More surface combatants decamped from Sevastopol, heading to join the squadron in the Eastern Med.

Notable photos:

This guy doesn’t look like he’s having fun yet. (76th airdrop near Pskov)

BMD drop.jpg

These guys had too much fun already. (Tu-22M3 bomber in lawndart configuration)


Comments and corrections are welcome. This is meant to be a rough summary of some of the activities taking place.




My latest article on the upcoming Zapad 2017 exercise on War on the Rocks

Don’t be surprised if in the coming days you increasingly hear the word Zapad echoing across media outlets and the blogosphere as though it were a category five hurricane, or an apocalyptic event approaching. Zapad, meaning “West” in Russian, is the Russian military’s annual strategic exercise, scheduled to commence on Sept. 14. Such capstone training events have been held on a quadrennial rotation since 1999 between four strategic directions, including Vostok (Eastern), Tsentr (Central), and Kavkaz (Caucasus). As anticipated, Zapad 2017 will take place in the Baltic region, held jointly with Belarus, and led by forces based in Russia’s Western Military District.

The ongoing confrontation between Russia and the United States, together with the exercise’s geographical focus, makes this a particularly significant event. Large-scale Russian exercises have always imparted a sense of foreboding, yet the reaction to Zapad 2017 is especially sensational this year. The Center for European Policy Analysis has even created a dedicated website with a countdown clock as though awaiting doomsday. Ahead of Zapad rolls a strong wave of anxiety among NATO members, senior officials, and the Russia-watcher community. Such exercises call for vigilance and caution, but panic is unwarranted.

Ironically, much as the leaders of NATO members dislike Russia’s deployment of forces along their borders, the exercise should be treated as an opportunity. Zapad 2017 is happening whether NATO likes it or not, and Russia will keep holding this exercise every four years, just as the Soviet Union had a penchant for running major exercises in the fall. In truth, Western observers are bound to learn much from this event about Russia’s ability to deploy combat formations to the region, the current state of Russia’s armed forces, and how Moscow intends to leverage military power to shape Western decision-making in the event of a crisis. The conduct of the exercise may even help validate, or invalidate, some of the current thinking in NATO on how to deter Russia.

Ultimately the exercise is a test of what  Russia calls  “strategic deterrence,” an integration of military, non-military, and nuclear capabilities to shape adversary decision-making from crisis to actual conflict. Although small countries are naturally anxious when large neighbors flex their muscles, in reality this entire affair is about Moscow establishing coercive credibility with Washington, and in that respect it is quite effective. Zapad is part of one long conversation on deterrence and compellence facilitated by the Russian General Staff.

Read more on the site.