Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

tel. +38 (044) 287 52 58

Large-scale military maneuvers of the Russian Federation «West-2021»: final training before a large-scale offensive


Large-scale military exercises «West-2021» at the training grounds of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus began on September 10. The exercises were held at 14 military training grounds (9 Russian and 5 Belarusian), as well as in the Baltic Sea. In total, 200,000 military personnel, about 760 units of equipment, 80 aircraft and 15 ships were involved.

The Obuz-Lesnovsky, Domanivsky, Ruzhansky and Brestsky training grounds were used to perform tasks within the framework of maneuvers on the territory of the Republic of Belarus. In Russia, the main part of the maneuvers was carried out at Kirillovsky, Strugi Krasnye, Mulino, Pogonovo, Khmelevka, Pravdinsky, Dobrovolsky, Dorogobuzh and Volsky training grounds.

According to the legend of the exercises, the Russian soldiers allegedly repel the attack of a hypothetical enemy and inflict a swift counterattack. However, the main attention is paid to offensive actions: landing behind the lines of a hypothetical enemy, inflicting damage with the «Tornado» and «Smerch» MLRS, clearing with the TOS-1A «Solntsepek», the use of the «Orlan-10» UAV to adjust the work of artillery, as well as the use of tanks for the rapid development of the offensive.[1]

Simultaneously with the start of «West-2021», on September 10, the Polish army's «Lynx-21» exercises have began. Polish and Lithuanian officials said they fear «hybrid incidents» during Russian maneuvers. As noted by the Lithuanian military expert, reserve colonel Vaidotas Malignonis: «Although Russia insists that the training is defensive, if you look at the scenario, they are exclusively offensive. For example, 4 years ago there were the same exercises, in the scenario of which they attacked Poland and Lithuania from Kaliningrad and Belarus. The culmination of the exercise was a nuclear strike on Warsaw. It's a legend, of course, but it looks really aggressive».[2]

The West 2021 exercises, in contrast to the 2017 exercises, were conducted in radically different geopolitical conditions. First, it is worth noting the changes at the global level. Following the election of Joe Biden as President of the United States, the new administration set out to build constructive relations with the Russian Federation in order to prevent the rapprochement of Beijing and Moscow. In the new US foreign policy strategy, the responsibility for the European continent should be placed more on Germany, a state that aims to improve relations with the Russian Federation, in some cases at the expense of common European interests.

Following the disastrous withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, North Atlantic unity has once again been called into question, and even greater uncertainty has arisen about the readiness of Western European nations to defend Eastern European nations in the event of an attack by the Russian Federation. Secondly, at the regional level, there are the consequences of the harmful actions of the self-proclaimed President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, who, after losing the election, refused to transit the power to a democratically elected candidate and repressed his own population. After that, the Belarusian dictator, contrary to the principles enshrined in the Chicago Convention, forcibly landed a civilian plane of Ryanair company in order to arrest the oppositionist Roman Protasevich. These actions, which violate not only human rights but also the foundations of international law, have prompted the EU, the United States and Ukraine to impose tough sanctions on the Lukashenko regime.

In response to Western sanctions, Alexander Lukashenko has created an artificial migrant crisis on the border with Lithuania and Poland. Since the beginning of 2021, more than 4,000 migrants have been detained at the Lithuanian-Belarusian border. This is 50 times more than last year. Thus, under the Kremlin's umbrella, Alexander Lukashenko is still waging a hybrid war against the European Union and NATO, using migrants as a weapon. Having lost the opportunity to maneuver between the West and Russia, the Lukashenko regime has become completely dependent on Moscow. At the same time, part of the military contingent of the Russian Federation after the military exercises may remain on the territory of Belarus and increase Russia's influence within the state, whose sovereignty is already practically conditional.

On September 9, 2021, negotiations were held in the capital of the Russian Federation on an integration project between Russia and Belarus. Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin, following talks in Moscow, have agreed on 28 union programs, as well as on common macroeconomic policies, defense space and the oil and gas market. During a joint press conference, Vladimir Putin even announced the prospect of creating a common currency and a common parliament in the future. According to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba, «In order to demonstrate the seriousness of their intentions regarding integration within the framework of the union state, a narrative is deliberately introduced not only about economic integration plans with 28 programs, but also about a common defense space. We need to closely monitor the West 2021 exercise, because the scenarios carried out there pose very serious risks». The minister added that Alexander Lukashenko was trying to pretend that he was in control of the situation, but in fact the depth of integration is determined by the Russian president.

In May, the Foreign Policy Research Institute wrote that the Ukrainian authorities needed to reconsider the perception of the Lukashenko regime and to prudently assess the range of threats that exist on Ukraine's northern border, which was not done during the war with Russia. An increasing of the enemy's border by 1,084 kilometers is not a pessimistic prospect, but an objective reality. This threat became apparent after Alexander Lukashenko's announcement of his intention to deploy Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems on the Belarusian-Ukrainian border. «We are being heated up from the south. And what else can happen... We must prepare – we have 1200 km border with Ukraine, so we will have to cover this perimeter as well. And we have just said that the S-400 would be very useful to us», the Belarusian dictator stated.[3]

Thus, the weaker the regime of Alexander Lukashenko, the more militant and hostile the rhetoric becomes. In addition to military threats to Ukraine, Lukashenko's subversive actions pose problems for Eastern NATO members, which, in the absence of a response from the Alliance, undermines confidence in the institution. The Russian Federation, in turn, is gradually absorbing the neighboring state. The Kremlin is doing this without haste, so as not to provoke a backlash. Given the transit of power in Minsk, the Kremlin could bet on a pro-Russian regime in Belarus, which would voluntarily join the union state. Thus, this scenario would give the Anschluss a legitimacy. In this case, Russia will finally surround Ukraine from three directions, having already its own S-400 systems on the Belarusian-Ukrainian border.