Western commentators were obsessed with the numbers of Russian troops being mobilized during the course of exercise and stuck firmly to the “100,000 servicemen” narrative. But Russia proved them wrong by keeping the drills small, managed, and contained.
The real numbers are still unconfirmed, but the actual number of troops deployed was almost certainly below what was initially reported in the West. This is primarily because Zapad-2017 focused on strengthening Command and Control (C2) and integrating forces, rather than emphasising troop displacements – which had already been done during Zapad-2013.
The Kremlin could therefore credibly claim that the West overreacted and fell victim to scaremongering and reporting rumours that Moscow was not being transparent about the nature of the exercise and its intentions…
Russia practised two of the four main types of modern warfare: asymmetric and conventional (the other two being cyber and nuclear). In the first phase of the rehearsed scenario – during which “illegal armed groups” from Veshnoriya “penetrated” Russian and Belarusian territory – Russia and Belarus tested troop deployment, the setting up of advanced field posts and C2 components, as well as integrating forces ahead of a joint counter-offensive against a more conventional enemy, which took place during the second half of the week’s exercises…
It did not rehearse a total war scenario but rather showed it is ready to raise the cost of deterrence in order to win while also imposing a tremendous cost on an invading army. Veshnoriya did not stand a chance.
Furthermore, intimidating NATO while bolstering Russia’s sense of military power on the home front allows Moscow to use supposedly increased insecurity in the West and the shared neighbourhood as a credible deterrent. Deterrence is one thing, but if you can prove to your enemy that their incursion will result in a catastrophe, you create insecurity among your opponents – and your neighbours.
Zapad showed that any army seeking to burst Russia’s A2/AD bubble would bear a high enough cost as to be effectively beaten. At the end of the day, Russia demonstrated that its borders with Eastern Europe are not only conventionally tough to breach but also benefit from solid anti-access capability to deny entry to enemy forces – not just geographically but also on many strategic fronts, from space down to the sea. Läs artikel