Newsweek's headline doesn't pull any punches: "Russia Is Preparing for a Massive War, but We Don't Know Where, Warns Ukrainian President." The story is based on comments that president, Petro Poroshenko, made in a Thursday address to parliament regarding Russia's Zapad-2017 exercises in Belarus. The drill is scheduled to begin next Thursday, involve up to 13,000 troops, and last a week, but "some 2,000 transporters with soldiers and equipment have approached and are approaching our borders," says Poroshenko. "There is no guarantee that after the end of these maneuvers all this will return to Russia." More on the wariness in the region, which has been building for weeks:
- Russia has said 5,500 Russian and 7,200 Belarusian troops will participate in the maneuvers, along with aircraft, tanks, and navy ships. But the AP reports officials in other countries think that number is BS. Estonian Defense Minister Juri Luik in July predicted as many as 100,000 troops would be present; Poland's Deputy Defense Minister Michal Dworczyk also expressed skepticism about the count.
- The BBC boils Poroshenko's fears down to these comments: That the maneuvers might be "a smokescreen to create new Russian army assault groups to invade Ukrainian territory. ... There is more and more proof of its preparations for an offensive war on a continental scale."
- In August, the former president of Georgia speculated that Belarus could be a target, per an earlier Newsweek article. His key line: "What we are seeing in Belarus, I think that Russia is planning to take and annex Belarus."
- Russia has promised its drill isn't a cover for any such nefarious plot, but the Financial Times notes there's precedent at play: Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia came as its war games ended in the Caucasus, and in 2014, troops deployed as part of a "snap exercise" kicked off the annexation of Crimea. But the FT thinks Russia is at most trying to intimidate its neighbors. "Putin might, in theory, benefit from a 'small, victorious war' six months before he must face elections. In practice, a conflict in north-east Europe is unlikely to be small, or containable, and would carry extraordinary risk."
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