Vladimir Putin looks on as Russia flexes its military muscles

The Zapad-2017 drills are a joint exercise between Russia and Belarus, but the Russian Defence Ministry says the West has no cause for alarm.

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Vladimir Putin looks on as Russia flexes its military muscles

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It may look to some as if Moscow is testing out its ability to wage war against the West.

But the Russian Ministry of Defence says the Zapad-2017 military drills, attended by President Vladimir Putin, are a purely defensive exercise.

Their goal: to ensure the smooth interaction of troops and armament control systems and to test new pieces of kit.

“A signal to intimidate”?

Former US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said there was no cause for alarm:

“We watched the Russians and the Soviets before having these Zapad exercises for many years. They are clearly trying to send a signal to intimidate, but I think that the measures that NATO has taken, the movement of NATO forces into Poland and into the Baltic States, the US reinforcement of our military position in Europe …I think they may want it to be intimidating but I don’t think it is.”

It is nonetheless a muscular display, with nearly 13,000 personnel, plus aircraft, tanks and ships taking part.