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The Daily Vertical: Don't Fear The Zapad (Transcript)

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

So I guess everybody in Vilnius, Warsaw, and Kyiv can rest easy now.

At a briefing this week, Russia's deputy defense minister, Aleksandr Fomin, said the upcoming Zapad-2017 war-games exercises would not be used as a platform for an invasion and occupation of Lithuania, Poland, or Ukraine.

He interestingly didn't offer similar guarantees to Estonia and Latvia, but -- let's give him the benefit of the doubt -- that was probably just an oversight.

It would be a mistake, however, to interpret Fomin's remarks as an effort to reassure Russia's neighbors and the West on the eve of Russia's largest military exercises since the Cold War.

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Quite the opposite, in fact.

By saying the words Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, invasion, and occupation in the same sentence, Fomin appeared to be encouraging everybody to think about this possibility.

Can you say psyop? Of course you can.

Because it is in Russia's interests for the Zapad exercises to be seen as menacing.

It's in Moscow's interests for Zapad to be seen as a threat.

It's in the Kremlin's interests for the Baltic states, Poland, and Ukraine to be nervous and edgy.

But while these war games do give Russia an opportunity to spook and intimidate the West, they also give the West an opportunity to better understand Moscow's true military capabilities and its strategic thinking.

As the military analyst Michael Kofman reminds us in a recent article, the West shouldn't fear the Zapad exercises, the West should watch them very closely -- and learn from them.

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