The Vienna Document of 2011 is an agreement by members of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe — a group that includes Russia — which says that any exercise involving more than 13,000 personnel must allow observers from all other OSCE nations.
Russian officials, such as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, are adamant they have nothing to hide.
Keir Giles, an associate fellow at London's Chatham House think tank, said the official figures were "hopelessly unreliable." He added Russia could get around the 13,000-limit by having several drills going on at once.
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"Russia is not organizing defensive operations but instead an offensive threat, testing how serious we are about protecting the members of NATO," said Jonathan Eyal, international director of the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank.
Belarus not only borders Russia, but also three of America's key but relatively isolated NATO allies: Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia.
The official figure given by Russia is that there will be no more than 13,000 personnel taking part.
Some Western analysts say that it's no coincidence that this is also the exact number of troops allowed in a military exercise before international observers must be invited.
But many Western experts say that Russian exercises are often used to disguise other objectives.
Most notably, Russia's war with Georgia in 2008 and annexation of Crimea in 2014 both followed military exercises that allowed Moscow to move troops into key locations. served as a means to obscure the movement of Russian units into the conflict zone," according to the report by The Jamestown Foundation following the Zapad 2013 exercise.
Other Western officials, including the head of the U. Hodges made the comment in a Reuters interview in July.
Russia insists the long-planned Zapad exercises would only be used to defend against aggression by NATO, the U.
In terms of this year's Zapad exercise, what concerns some officials and experts is they aren't exactly sure how big they will be.