December 22, 2017 3:25 pm

Vast Russian exercise in the fall was rehearsal for invading the Baltic states: report

Military jets fly during the joint Russian-Belarusian military exercises Zapad-2017 at a training ground near the town of Borisov on September 20, 2017.

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Zapad 2017, an enormous Russian military exercise in mid-September was a “dry run” for a “full-scale conventional war against NATO in Europe,” the German daily Bild reported earlier this week.

The paper cited “two leading analysts from a western intelligence service,” without elaborating.

According to their analysis, Zapad 2017 rehearsed a Russian operation in the Baltic Sea and Arctic Ocean which would:

  • Invade the three Baltic states — Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. All three countries are NATO members, and this triggers an obligation for the alliance, including Canada, to defend all three countries
  • Cut the land connection between Poland and Lithuania, making it harder for NATO to defend the Baltic states, while at the same time taking control of their harbours and airports
  • Engage in heavy air attack on targets further west, in Germany, Finland, Sweden, Norway and perhaps the Netherlands. Bombers and cruise missiles would target “critical infrastructure, that is, air fields, harbours, energy supplies and so on”
  • Destroy NATO naval forces in the Baltic

READ MORE: Sweden brings back military draft amid ‘deteriorating security’ in Europe

The exercise assumed that neutral Finland and Sweden would function in practice as NATO members.

The operation, if carried out, would necessarily involve Canadian troops in combat. Over 500 Canadian ground and air personnel are deployed to Latvia.

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READ MORE: NATO’s Canadian-led battle group beginning to take shape in Latvia

NATO estimated that about 40,000 Russian military members and civilians participated in the exercise.

Aldrimer.no, a Norway-based defence analysis site, reported in October that the Russian exercise included a large-scale rehearsal of the invasion of the Svalbard archipelago, a group of Arctic islands owned by Norway. They cited “sources from the Norwegian defense establishment as well as within the NATO command structure.

The rehearsal included 40 Russian surface vessels and 10 submarines, the site said.

Norway was caught off-guard by the exercise, which seemed to have been planned entirely though land-based communications cables, the site said. The Norwegian navy’s intelligence vessel and Orion patrol aircraft weren’t available, which led to a “complete loss of situational awareness in the north …  Norway and NATO was close to being blind and completely unprepared,” the site said, citing unnamed NATO officials.

READ MORE: Baltic states would fall to a Russian invasion in 60 hours, report warns

Svalbard is home to the Global Seed Vault, an underground facility meant to preserve examples of rare or endangered food crops so that they could be brought back into service if needed.

Russia considers the islands strategic, since the country’s Arctic fleet must pass by them to get to the Atlantic.

Both Bild and aldrimer.no said that two Russian bombers were followed by Norwegian F-16s during the exercise as they flew all the way down the coast of Norway, then turned around and returned to their bases in Russia. It’s not clear what they were training to do.

WATCH: Russian Baltic Fleet warships last weekend took part in military exercises at sea which are part of the large-scale joint Russia-Belarus military drill codenamed ‘Zapad-2017.’ According to the drill’s scenario, simulated enemy’s planes and helicopters were trying to destroy the fleet and Russian military ships had to defeat a hypothetical aggressor. The targets were hit successfully.

READ MORE: Why Moldova, Estonia may feel uneasy about Russia’s actions

© 2017 The Canadian Press

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