Is Russia Practicing a Dry Run for an Invasion of Belarus?

Russia does military exercises regularly, but this year’s version, underway right now, deserves especially close attention. It’s called Zapad (“West”) and involves thousands of troops doing maneuvers on the borders of the Baltic states and Poland. The motivating scenario is to defend against an imagined invasion of Belarus by foreign-backed extremists. One of the fictional enemy states, “Vesbaria,” seems to be a thinly disguised Lithuania; the other, “Lubenia,” looks a bit like Poland. There will no doubt be the usual low-level provocations, with Russian planes buzzing borders, that will make the whole passive-aggressive show of strength look more like an invasion of the West than the other way around.

One extra element this time, however, is that these are joint exercises with Belarus, and not everyone in Belarus is happy to play host. The exercises are being staged in the northwest of the country, given the name of another fictional state, “Veyshnoria.” This is the historical heartland of real Belarusian nationalism, where Belarusian activists in the early 20th century competed with Poles, Lithuanians, and Jews to claim the old Tsarist administrative region of Vilna. Unfortunately for the Belarusians, much of this became Vilnius, the capital of modern-day Lithuania. But the rest remains in the northwest of modern Belarus, with the division testament to the long-standing love-hate relationship between Baltic peoples and Belarusians. Hence the Baltic-style spelling of Veyshnoria.

But the region also voted for President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s main opponent, the nationalist Zianon Pazniak, the last time Belarus had a real competitive election, back in 1994. So Zapad is directed as much against an “internal enemy” as against NATO powers, namely nationalists backed by the West. And that, worryingly, is the same scenario that Russia claimed to detect in Ukraine in 2014.

Read More at Foreign Policy.

North Korea’s apparent sixth nuke test estimated to have yield of 100 kilotons: lawmaker

North Korea’s apparent sixth nuclear test was estimated to have a yield of up to 100 kilotons, about four to five times stronger than the nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945, the chief of the parliament’s defense committee said Sunday.

Citing a report from the military authorities, Kim Young-woo said that the explosive power of the apparent nuke tested Sunday appeared to be much stronger than the North’s fifth one estimated to have a yield of 10 kilotons. One kiloton is equivalent to 1,000 tons of TNT.

“(The North’s latest test) is estimated to have a yield of up to 100 kilotons, though it is a provisional report,” Kim of the minor opposition Bareun Party told Yonhap News Agency over the phone. “The test will be a very crucial political and strategic inflexion point.”‘

Read More Here.

Geologic Data Here.

Editor’s Note: The yield of the test has been expanded to at least 120KT according to Japanese press. 

NATO intercepts Russian jets near Estonia as Putin prepares military buildup

Spanish and Finnish fighter jets were sent to intercept three Russian planes flying near Estonian air space on Tuesday, the NATO military alliance said in a statement.

The Russian airplanes were identified as two MiG-31 jets and one Antonov AN-26 transport aircraft, NATO said.

“Two Spanish F-18 jets assigned to NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission scrambled from Estonia’s Amari Air Base,” NATO said.

“Finnish jets also scrambled to intercept the aircraft.”

Intercepts of Russian aircraft by NATO have increased in recent years amid heightened tensions between the West and Moscow over Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis.

Russia is preparing send as many as 100,000 troops to the eastern edge of NATO territory at the end of the summer, one of the biggest steps yet in the military buildup undertaken by President Vladimir Putin and an exercise in intimidation that recalls the most ominous days of the Cold War.

Read More at the Sydney Morning Herald.

US detects ‘highly unusual’ North Korean submarine activity

The US military has detected “highly unusual and unprecedented levels” of North Korean submarine activity and evidence of an “ejection test” in the days following Pyongyang’s second intercontinental ballistic missile launch this month, a defense official told CNN on Monday.

An ejection test examines a missile’s “cold-launch system,” which uses high pressure steam to propel a missile out of the launch canister into the air before its engines ignite. That helps prevent flames and heat from the engine from damaging either the submarine, submersible barge or any nearby equipment used to launch the missile.

Carried out on land at Sinpo Naval Shipyard, Sunday’s ejection test is the third time this month — and fourth this year — that North Korea has conducted a trial of the missile component that is critical to developing submarine launch capabilities, according to the US defense official.

Read More at CNN.

Russia warns of further retaliation in response to US sanctions

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov

A top Russian diplomat on Sunday lambasted the United States Congress for voting to sanction Russia, and warned of retaliation by Moscow.

Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov referred to a bill passed by Congress on Thursday to sanction his country as “weird and unacceptable,” and said it was “the last straw.”

“If the U.S. side decides to move further towards… deterioration, we will answer. We will respond in kind. We will … retaliate,” he said.

Ryabkov’s comments came after Moscow ordered the United States on Friday to cut hundreds of diplomatic staff and said it would seize two U.S. diplomatic properties as a response to the new sanctions that were approved nearly unanimously by both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Read More at Business Insider.

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