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A nation must think before it acts.
According to press information, on 10 September 2021, the Russian Armed Forces plan to start the one-week-long active phase of this year’s annual strategic-level exercise (STRATEX), Zapad (West) 2021, a bilateral large-scale Russo-Belorussian strategic-level exercise, primarily in Belarus and Russia’s Western Military District (MD, see map 1). Large-scale Russian exercises understandably attract much attention and speculation both in Russia and abroad. Most Western comments about Zapad 2017 addressed Russian and international political aspects and detailed several capabilities employed in the exercise and its scenarios or steps and phases. Few, if any, addressed what it meant for the potential of Russian forces to fight wars, which these exercises are all about actually.
Russia’s warfighting potential is important for the West writ large for several reasons. Tensions between Russia and NATO are increasing. Russia perceives a growing military threat in its west. Russian strategic documents re-emphasise the importance of military power. Russia actually uses military force to achieve its geopolitical goals, such as in Eastern Ukraine and in Syria.