A senior NATO official says there's reason to be concerned about the large-scale Zapad 2017 military maneuvers being conducted now by Russia and Belarus, since they could be seen as "a serious preparation for big war." Gen. Petr Pavel, head of NATO's Military Committee, told the AP that NATO is increasing efforts to re-establish military-to-military communications with Russia to avoid any "unintended consequences of potential incidents during the exercise." The Zapad war games, being conducted this year mostly in Belarus, run until Sept. 20 and reportedly involve 5,500 Russian and 7,200 Belarusian troops.
Despite assurances from Moscow that "NATO is not considered as an enemy" and that "the exercise is not aimed at NATO," Pavel said Russians have not been transparent about the facts of the exercises. He says the number of troops in the exercises—which the Russians say is about 12,700—could actually be between 70,000 to 100,000. "All together, what we see is a serious preparation for big war," he said. "When we only look at the exercise that is presented by Russia there should be no worry. But when we look it in the big picture, we have to be worried, because Russia was not transparent." (Read more Russia stories.)