SEPTEMBER will be an edgy time for NATO’s front-line member states. For a week in the middle of the month, Russia will be running what is being described as the biggest military exercise in Europe since the end of the cold war. The build-up is already under way.
Zapad (“West”) exercises take place every four years and date from Soviet times, when they were used to test new weapons and tactics. Zapad 2017 is expected to involve at least 100,000 Russian troops. It will extend across the country’s Western Military District and Belarus, which has a border with three NATO members. By next week, most of the advance elements of the forces taking part in the exercise will have arrived. The rest, expected a fortnight later, will include the First Guards Tank Army, a famous unit from the second world war that was reformed in 2015. It packs a mighty offensive punch.