Russia was the target of Nato’s own fake news

Military and media reports hyped the Zapad military exercise as a major threat. In fact, what took place was nothing as dramatic as the West’s warnings would have led you to believe

Whatever happened to the imminent outbreak of World War Three? Earlier this month, you may recall, warnings about a “huge” Russian war game were everywhere, sowing alarm across the Western world. This could, we were told repeatedly, be Russia’s biggest military exercise since the end of the Cold War. “Massive” and “vast” were other adjectives used.

Military and media reports built Zapad-2017 – Zapad meaning West in Russian – into an almost unprecedented threat, but two particular claims stood out. Russia’s insistence that around 12,000 troops would take part was dismissed as a subterfuge; in reality, there would be upwards of 100,000.

Then there was intent. Such a major exercise, it was argued, could provide cover for a Russian land grab in Ukraine or even the Baltic States. Its proximity, in time and geography, to the 1 September anniversary of the start of the Second World War – Germany’s assault on Polish troops at Westerplatte – only seemed to lend the warnings extra credibility. With East-West tensions running high, we were on standby for World War Three.

So what happened? Zapad-2017 concluded earlier this week, by which time it had seriously fizzled out, in Western media terms at least. All that made the news was footage of President Vladimir Putin observing the scene through binoculars, and a report that three people had been injured when a Russian helicopter accidentally fired on spectators. The numbers are put, even by Western analysts, at somewhere between 10,000 and 17,000 troops taking part. No one has been invaded.

And the Russians are enjoying a rare last laugh.


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