With so much focus on President Trump’s response to last weekend’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, many news outlets have seemingly not been paying attention to what is happening overseas. While the U.S. has been dealing with increased violence from far-right groups, Russia just unveiled large-scale war exercises that have much of eastern Europe feeling very nervous.
On Saturday, CNBC reported that Russia has “large-scale war games” planned with the neighboring country of Belarus. It’s been suggested that these exercises are a cover for something more extreme that would compare to the country’s annexation of Crimea.
The concern over a possible annexation of Belarus stems from the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin has had a tense relationship with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
Leon Aron, resident scholar and the director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think-tank, told CNBC about the upcoming exercises:
‘Russia is billing it as modest exercises under 13,000 troops, but everything points to probably the largest military exercise in post-Soviet history.’
‘We urge Russia to share information regarding its exercises and operations in NATO’s vicinity to clearly convey its intentions and minimize any misunderstandings.’
‘We defer to Russia obviously for anything specific to their military exercises and posture.’
He also pointed out that Russia has “conducted several large-scale snap exercises along NATO’s eastern flank with little to no notice and in a non-transparent manner.”
In April, former Estonian Defense Minister Margus Tsahnka expressed concerns after having obtained intelligence about Russia’s plans to send troops and resources to Belarus. He said about these plans:
‘For Russian troops going to Belarus, it is a one-way ticket. This is not my personal opinion, we are analyzing very deeply how Russia is preparing for the Zapad exercises.”
CNBC noted in their report that Putin has been growing uneasy with Belarus because Lukashenko has been developing a closer relationship with the West since 1994. The U.S. has tried to get closer to Belarus by lifting sanctions; the European Union also lifted sanctions recently to try and build a relationship with the country.
Moscow is also reportedly upset that Belarus depends on Russian subsidies. The fact that Lukashenko positioned himself as a neutral mediator for Ukraine peace talks has also soured Russia’s relationship with Belarus.
Aron said about Belarus’ actions:
‘This isn’t the kind of stuff that Putin likes to see from a country he expected was a very close ally.’
At the same time, Aron pointed out that Russian people are “not terribly concerned about Belarus.”
Clearly, there are a lot of possibilities for the outcome of Russia’s military exercises. We’ll surely learn more as their scheduled date gets closer.
Featured image via Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images.