The Anatomy of Zapad-2017: Certain Features of Russian Military Planning
Volume 16, Issue 1 (2018), pp. 229–267
Pub. online: 9 December 2018 Type: Article Open Access
9 December 2018
9 December 2018
All Zapad exercises which took place after the collapse of the former Soviet Union (in 1999, 2009, 2013 and 2017) attracted the attention of neighboring countries and led to different estimates and conclusions. Every exercise had something particular happening which could not be explained or understood in the West. Step by step, while analyzing Zapad exercises and changes in Russia and its armed forces, sufficient information was gathered allowing for the partial explanation of the behavior of Russian forces during different exercises, and the reasons why they acted in such a manner.
Contrary to NATO and a majority of Western countries, the Russian military plans and executes military activities differently. This could be explained by the czarist and Soviet military giving preference to Prussian General Staff (GS) traditions and philosophy. The General Staff, which advocated its own methods, allowed the national leadership to manage and use military instruments more effectively. The recent Russian military tends to keep those traditions alive, while believing that modern technological progress could reduce (if not eliminate) the weaknesses of the Prussian GS philosophy and increase its stronger aspects. The Russian military believes that detailed operation planning in advance, with synchronization of actions in its core and the ability of forces to implement plans and the leadership to control and command an entire operation can turn the military into an effective fighting and foreign policy tool.
Zapad exercises have shown that they are used to test the concept and planning of a potential Russian war with a strong opponent in the West (Zapad operation). The concept and plan are both backed up with adequate assumptions. An entire operation (war) is planned to be waged in three stages. The essence of the war (and plan) is a synchronization of military actions in time and space. Since 1999, all of this has been tested, in the earlier years in separate stages, and during Zapad 2017 tests were carried out in a more complex way and covered all three stages.
It is worth to note that at least two times (in 2009 and 2017), Russia used Zapad exercises not only to test its plans and troops, but as a deception and strategic communication message as well. It appears that in both cases, some success was achieved.