21.06.22 War Review

The Wrong War: Russian Military exercises did not prepare the army for full-scale offensive war


Russia’s Zapad military exercises conducted in 2013, 2017 and 2021 were aimed at practicing active defense and involved almost no offensive combat, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) experts write.

Russian armed forces were training to deter a potential attack on Russia or Belarus from terrorist groups or neighboring states — Latvia, Lithuania and Poland — by creating barriers through joint air, artillery and mobile defense.

These military drills are very different in nature from an actual large-scale offensive operation of the type that the Russian army had to undertake in the first weeks of the invasion of Ukraine.

One major difference is the need to build supply lines for advancing troops and protect them from enemy attacks, which is exactly what the Russian army had problems with in February and March in the Kiev and Chernihiv directions. The second important difference is the scale. Even in the most massive Zapad-2021 exercise, the number of troops and equipment involved was two to three times smaller than during the invasion of Ukraine. In fact, the Russian armed forces had not practiced or undertaken any operations on a comparable scale in the Western Military District since the Soviet era in 1981.