Podcast

Staring Down the Barrel of Russia’s Big Guns

The massive Zapad 2017 military exercise proves once again that Putin never does anything small. But what’s he really after here?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel greets US President Donald Trump  prior to the start of the first working session of the G20 meeting in Hamburg, northern Germany, on July 7.
Leaders of the world's top economies will gather from July 7 to 8, 2017 in Germany for likely the stormiest G20 summit in years, with disagreements ranging from wars to climate change and global trade. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / IAN LANGSDON        (Photo credit should read IAN LANGSDON/AFP/Getty Images)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel greets US President Donald Trump prior to the start of the first working session of the G20 meeting in Hamburg, northern Germany, on July 7. Leaders of the world's top economies will gather from July 7 to 8, 2017 in Germany for likely the stormiest G20 summit in years, with disagreements ranging from wars to climate change and global trade. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / IAN LANGSDON (Photo credit should read IAN LANGSDON/AFP/Getty Images)

This week, thousands of Russian troops, flanked by reluctant Belarusian allies, participated in the largest military exercise conducted since the Cold War. Western observers looked on in alarm. The elaborate display was complete with complicated backstories and fictitious enemies that, on paper, sound eerily similar to the Baltics and nationalist territories within Belarus. Do the U.S. and NATO allies have good reason to be concerned? Perhaps. Previous Zapad exercises proved to be precursors to very real Russian military interventions in Georgia and Ukraine.

On this week’s second episode of The E.R, FP’s executive editor for the web Ben Pauker discusses the display of Moscow’s military might with Andrew Wilson and FP’s Amie Ferris-Rotman. Zapad comes at the tail end of a sustained Russian military buildup that begin in 2008. Was the training exercise patriotic theatrics or a thinly veiled attempt at regional intimidation? And how is the show of strength playing inside Russia?

Andrew Wilson is a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and professor of Ukrainian studies at University College London. In addition to the Ukraine, he is an expert in comparative politics of democratization in the post-Soviet states and political technology. He is the author of Ukraine Crisis: What It Means for the West.

Amie Ferris-Rotman is FP’s Moscow correspondent. She previously reported across Russia and the Soviet Union for the Wall Street Journal and Reuters. Between Russia tours, she was Reuters’ senior correspondent in Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter: @Amie_FR.

Ben Pauker is FP’s executive editor for the web. Follow him on Twitter: @benpauker.

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Ben Pauker is executive editor, online, at Foreign Policy. @benpauker

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