On 18 January 2021, the Belarusian MoD reported that the joint Russo-Belarusian strategic-operational exercise, Zapad-2021, will take place between 10-16 September.
According to the Belarusian Minister of Defence, Viktor Khrenin, “the concept of the exercise is based on a possible variant of the escalation of the military and political situation with regard to a simulated state”.
Previous Belarusian MoD personnel comments indicated that the exercise would only take place in Belarus, but this was never going to happen. Indeed, Khrenin now confirmed that upon “Russian colleagues” proposal Zapad-2021 will take be held in Russia and Belarus and it will practice the application of the joint Regional Group of Forces (RGF).
When speaking to Lukashenko, Khrenin also stated there is a growing military threat (presumably to Belarus) due to an “intensification of military measures in neighbouring countries”, which include Poland, Baltic States, and Ukraine. Consequently, the West is seeking a solution to the problem of Belarusian bulge. Zapad will seek to counter these threats.
The Minister also stated that foreign observers will be invited to watch the exercise to see the level of training of the Belarusian Armed Forces.
Based on the Russian MoD press release, on 2 January TASS reported that Zapad-2021 “will focus on combating cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as on fire and electronic warfare activities against enemy formations, ways to train airborne troops’ vertical envelopment capability and rapidly shift between military activities”.
Snap combat readiness checks will be conducted as part of preparations for Zapad-2021. This is a standard procedure as it precedes every strategic-level exercises.
It is good that the Zapad-2021 date was confirmed. But apart from this, none of the information provided is particularly surprising.
Russia and Belarus will test capabilities across the entire spectrum of combat operation, starting from peacekeeping operations, through combined-arms, high-tempo conventional operations, to a nuclear release (but not in that order). After all, the exercise is strategic in nature.
The scenario of the exercise will be drawn to place NATO as the main enemy, but again, this is hardly surprising. All Zapad exercises are conducted with NATO in mind and practice capabilities that could be employed against the Alliance.
What I noticed was missing from this flurry of reports are references to the updated plan of using the RGF. In December 2020 Lukashenko received (and approved?) the new plan, which was created by Russian and Belarusian General Staffs. Although, it was apparently designed in Moscow. The document needs to be approved by the Supreme State Council of the Union State, which has not happened yet.
So it is unclear whether the revised plan has been adopted or not, but it will likely be tested in September. Officially, according to the Chief of the Belarusian General Staff, General Alexander Volfovich, the combat composition of the RGF needed to be changed due to changes in the structures and equipment in both Belarusian and Russian Armed Forces. While officially not recognized, they also reflected fluctuations in Belarusian neighbourhood, especially post-August elections and clear anti-Lukashenko sentiment in Europe.