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Belarus To Battle Fake State 'Veishnoria' In Zapad Exercise

"Veishnoria" is one of three states that have been created for Zapad 2017 -- large-scale military exercises planned for Belarus and parts of western Russia later this month.
"Veishnoria" is one of three states that have been created for Zapad 2017 -- large-scale military exercises planned for Belarus and parts of western Russia later this month.

It has a foreign ministry, flag, and even briefly had its history outlined on Wikipedia. Russia accuses it of stirring up trouble in Belarus.

But "Veishnoria" is nothing more than a creation of the Kremlin, concocted to serve as a convenient aggressor in Zapad (West) 2017, the joint military exercise planned for Belarus and parts of western Russia on September 14-20.

However, the fictional fatherland installed in Belarus -- one of three states created for the exercises -- has struck a chord with locals, who have taken to social media to fill in Veishnoria's state apparatus and accessories, as well as to generally poke fun at the whole idea.

Meanwhile, neighboring states -- specifically, the Baltics -- and others in the West are anticipating among the largest Russian military drills since the collapse of the Soviet Union, involving as many as 100,000 soldiers, although Minsk and Moscow put the troop numbers at just 13,000.

INFOGRAPHIC: Zapad 2017 To Scale

Zapad 2017 comes with tensions high between Moscow and the West over Russia's annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and its alleged backing -- both financially and militarily -- of separatists in eastern Ukraine.

According to the scenario unveiled at a briefing by the Belarusian General Staff on August 29, Veishnoria seeks to invade Belarus and foment discord between Moscow and Minsk.

A map of the exercise, released at the same briefing, shows Veishnoria in the northwest region of Belarus with the other two fake countries, Vesbaria and Lubenia, located in Lithuania and Poland.

Some commentators say that location is no accident.

Writing on Facebook, local analyst Serge Chaly says Veishnoria is located in an area where support for Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is suspect, noting opposition candidate Zianon Pazniak balloted strongly there in the 1994 presidential election. Pazniak has lived abroad since 1996.

Social media users are mostly having a laugh, sometimes at the expense of the authoritarian Lukashenka.

Much of the guffawing is generated by a satirical Twitter account describing itself as Veishnoria's "foreign ministry," @Vaisnoria_MFA, which mockingly declared Belarusian Deputy Defense Minister Aleh Belokonev persona non grata.

Another Tweet includes a faux exchange with a parodic Russian counterpart and Veishnorian heraldry featuring a stork, one of Belarus's official symbols.

"The first signs that intelligent life supporting Belarus still exists. Greetings to all our brothers and sisters in reason!"

"On behalf of the [foreign ministry], we have declared the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Republic of Veishnoria. We welcome you, friends!"

Blurring the line between reality and the absurd, political analyst Pavel Usov joined in on the joke, quipping on Facebook that "Veishnoria is a peaceful democratic country that has never been aggressive toward its neighbors."

Others have used social media to cobble together other national symbols for the imaginary state.

One tweet floats a mock Veishnorian banknote featuring a fox, saying 1 VSN is worth $5 but "only at domestic exchange points."

A passport boasting the world's "best design" was posted on Twitter by someone calling himself Slashman, who also touted slick Veishnoria T-shirts.

A Wikipedia page dedicated to Veishnoria has since come down, leaving behind only a screen-grab courtesy of the BBC.

But the Zapad 2017 exercise is serious business.

After all, military exercises preceded Russian military invasions of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014.

Zapad military drills of the past are reported to have included "simulated" nuclear strikes on Poland in 2009 and Sweden in 2013.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Belarus Service
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    Tony Wesolowsky

    Tony Wesolowsky is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL in Prague, covering Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Central Europe, as well as energy issues. His work has also appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists.