Russia and Belarus have begun the West 2009 war games.
A combined force of 12,500 troops, over 220 tanks, some 470 armoured combat vehicles, 230 self-propelled and towed artillery pieces, mortar guns and multiple-launch rocket systems, auxiliary equipment and warships from the Baltic, Black Sea and Northern fleets, 60 airplanes and 40 helicopters, and officers from the two countries' security and law-enforcement forces will train in order to "ensure strategic stability in the East European region" from September 8 to 29.
Russia will be represented by the 20th multiservice army of the Moscow Military District, Air Force Main Command task forces, and the Military Transport Aviation and the Airborne Forces, including units from the 98th Airborne Division that took part in the 2008 war against Georgia.
The plan for the war games calls for an airborne assault by 600 troops with armored vehicles.
Another goal is to test the new command and control systems for the new types of units formed during the ongoing military reform. The two countries' chiefs of staff - Gen. Nikolai Makarov (Russia) and Gen. Sergei Gurulev (Belarus) - will lead them.
The plan also includes mobilizing reservists and equipment, and deploying troops across large distances with different means of transport. This is a crucial element in modern conflicts, which call for rapid maneuvering, often on a global scale.
Vice Admiral Viktor Chirkov, chief of staff and acting commander of the Baltic Fleet, will supervise the naval part of the games, which will be held on the Baltic Sea. The frigates Neustrashimy and Yaroslav Mudry (the latter of which was commissioned in June 2009), as well as other warships will take part in the war games alongside Marines, some of whom will be dispatched to the war games from the Northern and Black sea fleets together with their landing craft.
The scale of the West 2009 war games reminds me of West 1981, held from September 4 to 12, 1981. Although a bit shorter than West 2009, those war games were unprecedented in the number of troops and equipment involved. West 1981 simulated an offensive by the Soviet and allied troops in a potential war against NATO.
During the next West-class exercise, held 18 years later in 1999, Russian troops simulated a conflict with NATO similar to the Yugoslav war in the spring of 1999. The 1999 war games showed that Russia's only recourse in a possible conflict with the West was nuclear weapons, which led to major changes in plans for using nuclear weapons, especially tactical ones.
As a result, the application threshold for using nuclear weapons was lowered, and Russia actually abandoned the Soviet commitment not to be the first to use nuclear weapons.
The "legend" of West 2009, although the games are not directed against the West, takes into account the complicated relations between Russia and East European countries, as well as the likelihood of all kinds of local conflicts in the region.
Therefore, as usual, the ultimate objective of the war games is not only training in order to command and control troops, but also demonstrating Russia's influence, including in military situations.
By Ilya Kramnik