ZAPAD-18 The Russian Bear is Back
Zapad-18 is the largest Russian wargame since Zapad-81 and involves some 300,000 personnel, 1,000 aircraft, 36,000 vehicles, and an unknown number of warships, along with Chinese and Mongolian forces.
The exercises will range from the Western edge of Russia all the way back through the Urals to the Pacific with the Central and Eastern Military Districts bearing the brunt of the activity to simulate a NATO attack on Russia and Russia’s counter-attack. The exercises will begin on September 11th and end on the 15th of the month and will engage about one third of Russians active military forces. Russia has also used the Zapad exercises as a focal point to test their strategic nuclear systems and to sortie strategic bombers off the coasts of NATO member countries. It is worth noting that Russia has used war games in the past as a prelude to invasion, Georgia in 2008, and Crimea in 2014.
Zapad-18 also coincides with the largest Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean in living memory off the coast of Syria including the presence of one cruiser, two destroyers, six frigates, two landing ship tank, two minesweepers, two Kilo class submarines and likely two Oscar class SSGN cruise missile boats. The Baltic States, Poland and Ukraine will likely be on a ‘knifes edge’ for the next few weeks as Russian forces deploy, exercise, and then hopefully redeploy to their bases. The Russians also may use the exercises to further reinforce their Kaliningrad Oblast and enhance their presence in Belarus. The Russian Black Sea fleet is currently conducting what amounts to a naval blockade of the Sea of Azov to further weaken Ukraine’s control of its Southern provinces, and in the hope of sponsoring civil unrest, even civil war, and to leave the country landlocked. Russia has also threatened Georgia over its break away provinces.
One thing is for certain, given the Trump administration’s recent woes, the specter of past and future Russian election meddling, and discord with its NATO allies, Russian President Vladimir Putin would like nothing better than to embarrass Trump and divide the US further from its allies.