Recent British Intelligence reports suggest that Russia has highly likely cancelled its planned Exercise ZAPAD (‘West’) 23, a significant joint strategic exercise (JSE) that traditionally serves as a major annual event showcasing the culmination of Russia’s military training efforts. The exercise, originally scheduled for September 2023, has reportedly been called off due to a combination of factors including the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, concerns over military performance, and potential domestic sensitivities.
Shift in JSEs and Recent Developments
Historically, Russia operated a four-year cycle of rotating JSEs across the country, showcasing different regions. However, since 2021, there has been a shift in focus, with the JSEs largely based in western Russia, reflecting Russia’s perception of NATO as a significant threat. Notably, ZAPAD 21, conducted in 2021, was reported to be the largest Russian exercise since the Soviet era.
The Impact of Ukraine Conflict and Military Performance
The recent under-performance of the Russian military in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has brought to light the limited training value of these JSEs. It appears that these exercises, while often presented with great pomp and show, have not translated effectively into real-world operational capabilities. As the conflict has continued, it is suggested that Russia may have realized that it lacks the required number of troops and equipment to execute a substantial exercise like ZAPAD 23.
Domestic and International Factors
The decision to potentially cancel ZAPAD 23 might also be influenced by a range of domestic and international factors. Given the ongoing war in Ukraine and potential public sensitivity, the Russian leadership could be avoiding the perception of running a large-scale exercise during wartime. Moreover, the possibility of insufficient resources and the potential for underwhelming military performances might have prompted Russia to reconsider its plans.
The cancellation of Exercise ZAPAD 23 marks a significant shift in Russia’s military training and strategic priorities. The decision, attributed to a combination of operational limitations and potential domestic sensitivities, underscores the challenges that Russia faces in effectively translating large-scale military exercises into operational capabilities. As Russia navigates its involvement in the conflict in Ukraine, its strategic decisions regarding military exercises will continue to shape perceptions of its military strength and preparedness on the global stage.