The Zapad Military Exercise Reveals Putin’s Fear



Show and tell.

Photographer: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images

The large-scale Russian military exercise known as Zapad, which started in Belarus on Thursday, is already a propaganda success: It has alarmed Russia's North Atlantic Treaty Organization neighbors and garnered so much Western media coverage that one might think it was an actual combat operation. But it has also provided an important insight into the fears of the Russian and Belarusian rulers, fears that are not necessarily groundless.

QuickTake Vladimir Putin

To Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, the exercise is meant to "frighten" her country. To Finnish Defense Minister Jussi Niinisto, it's about "information warfare" ("Western countries have taken the bait completely, they’ve plugged the exercises so much," he said recently). To military experts, the quadrennial exercise is a chance to see how much the Russian army has progressed since 2013, when the last Zapad was held. To me, the most intriguing part of the exercise is its storyline. 



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