United States military gear reaches Poland ahead of Russian war games

Estonia to send observers to Zapad exercise

Russia begins large scale Zapad 2017 military exercise in Belarus

Compared to the U.S, Russian Federation is still a military underdog, and the fact that Belarus is its only partner in these exercises goes to show how Moscow's network of alliances has withered since Soviet times. But no less important is the message these games seek to send to the world: the Russian military, almost three decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, is once again a force to be feared.

Russia-West relations nosedived to their lowest level since the Cold War in recent years after Moscow's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and its support of separatists fighting the Ukrainian government in eastern Ukraine, clashes that have left over 10,000 people dead.

Russian Federation has rejected NATO's claims that tens of thousands of troops will take part in its current war games, insisting that it will be abide by the so-called Vienna Document requiring that any exercise involving more than 13,000 troops be open to observers.

For his part, the Polish deputy defence minister, Michal Dworczyk, said that even if the war game is conducted peacefully, it could result in an increased threat in the future. Weeks before the exercises began, Poland warned that they could be used as cover for a Russian invasion.

How many troops are participating?

South Korean military police in an anti-terror and anti-chemical terror exercise as part of the 2017 Ulchi Freedom Guardian at Kintex on August 21 in Goyang, South Korea. North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officials say the 13,000 declared cap means Russian Federation will not need inspectors or observers. While some Western estimates put the number of troops taking part at up to one hundred thousand, the Russians insist these figures are exaggerated.

Hodges and other US and European officials have stressed that the current exercises are probably just drills.

Some Western officials including the head of the U.S. Army in Europe, Gen. Russian Federation says they will simulate assaults by "extremist groups" trying to carry out "terrorist attacks". He added that he had no indications that Russian Federation is planning such a move.

NATO has been critical about how transparent Moscow has been about Zapad 2017, saying it has failed to adhere to worldwide treaties by not allowing observers to monitor the exercise to ensure that it is not a cover for an aggressive military operation.

Sweden has started its largest military exercise in over 20 years with almost 20,000 troops drilling on air, land and sea, including a contingent of over 1,000 USA soldiers, amid rising military activity in the Baltic Sea region.

ZAPAD 2017 has also sparked concerns among NATO's easternmost members that Russian forces may stay in the area following the conclusion of the exercise.

NATO's chief Jens Stoltenberg told the BBC that Russian Federation has a history of using "big military exercises as a disguise or a precursor for aggressive military actions against their neighbors".

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman defended Russia's right to hold exercises and rejected accusations the authorities had not been transparent.

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