Continuing to ratchet up tension in the lead-up to Russia’s “Zapad” joint wargames with Belarus, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen repeated the rumors that over 100,000 Russian troops would participate. She insisted such a large size proved Russia was doing it as a show of force.
The claim is not a new one, and rather appears to be a continuation of NATO accusations that Russia has already debunked. Since late July, Russia has estimated the exercise to involve fewer than 13,000 troops total, including both their own and Belarussian troops.
Original NATO claims that the exercise was much bigger than its announced size was based on estimates of civilian personnel involved in the operation across both countries. When tacking on the number of other troops that won’t be leaving their bases but are still technically “on alert” for the exercise, it balloons even further.
Yet there can’t possibly be any evidence that Russia’s official figures are false yet, with the exercise still seven days away. At best this is an accusation based on vague but long-standing mistrust, and Germany feels obliged to complain about the Russian wargames because Russia has complained about much bigger NATO wargames in the same vicinity.