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Keir Giles, an associate fellow at London's Chatham House think tank, said the official figures were "hopelessly unreliable." He added Russia could get around the 13,000-limit by having several drills going on at once.
Moscow is not transparent both in terms of the size and intent of their exercises, one U. defense official told NBC News on condition of anonymity. Michelle Baldanza added: "Russia has conducted several large-scale snap exercises along NATO's Eastern flank with little to no notice and in a non-transparent manner." The last Zapad exercise, in 2013, featured "more than 75,000 men, who were engaged in simulated operations in the air, on land and at sea," according to a report by The Jamestown Foundation, a Washington-based research institute.
"Russia is reminding us that the Baltic states are relatively indefensible," Eyal added.
"They want to see where the cracks are in NATO and where they can be widened." Trump caused alarm in Europe after he was slow to explicitly endorse NATO's central promise of collective defense, known as Article 5.
S.-led 29-member military alliance founded in the aftermath of World War II.
But following months of uncertainty surrounding NATO — caused by Trump's mixed messages — this year's Zapad exercise may be designed to test the alliance's resolve.
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Germany has openly alleged that the real number will be more than 100,000 troops. That would make Zapad 2017 Russia's largest exercise since the Cold War.Other Western officials, including the head of the U. Hodges made the comment in a Reuters interview in July.Russia insists the long-planned Zapad exercises would only be used to defend against aggression by NATO, the U.But many Western experts say that Russian exercises are often used to disguise other objectives.Most notably, Russia's war with Georgia in 2008 and annexation of Crimea in 2014 both followed military exercises that allowed Moscow to move troops into key locations. served as a means to obscure the movement of Russian units into the conflict zone," according to the report by The Jamestown Foundation following the Zapad 2013 exercise.