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|Russia’s Zapad-2021 ExerciseBy George Barros and Mason Clark|
Key Takeaway: Russia and Belarus conducted a joint strategic exercise in September 2021 that provides essential insight into the evolving capabilities of the Russian and Belarusian militaries. The exercise advanced the Kremlin’s ongoing campaign to cement its control of the Belarusian military.
The Russian and Belarusian Armed Forces conducted the active phase of the Zapad-2021 large-scale annual military exercise from September 10-16. The Russian Armed Forces conduct strategic exercises each year in one of its four military districts (Western, Southern, Central, and Eastern) on a rotating basis. The Western Military District (WMD) hosted this year’s exercises, dubbed Zapad-2021. The Russian military conducts these rotating annual exercises to test the capabilities of each military district, experiment with force structure and operational concepts, and refine campaign planning. Each of these annual exercises features an “active phase,” a week-long scenario simulating major combat operations. The active phase is preceded by months of deployments and exercises preparing each participating unit for its role.
The Zapad-2021 exercise involved ground, air, naval, air defense, engineering, logistics and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear defense (CBRN) units in the Western Military District, Baltic Sea, and Arctic Sea. These capstone exercises are in many respects highly formalized and preplanned actions rather than snap readiness checks or stress tests. Zapad-2021 was additionally a multinational undertaking. Many of the exercises occurred in Belarus, and forces from India, Pakistan, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, and Sri Lanka participated in exercises at the Mulino training ground near Moscow.
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This publication is replacing ISW’s regular biweekly Russia in Review product this week. ISW will publish an extended, three-week Russia in Review on September 23 covering the Russian Duma elections occurring on September 19 and other