The military exercises Slavyanskoe Bratstvo 2020 (Slavonic Brotherhood) began on 14 September at the Brest range and their first stage lasted until 25 September.
It was reported that these are counterterrorism exercises
that will engage 300 Russian troops from the Pskov 76th Air Assault
Division.1 It was initially planned that the exercises will
also feature Serbian soldiers, but due to the events in Belarus Serbia
decided not to participate.2
The total number of engaged troops was reported being from 600 to 6,000 along with 500 pieces of military equipment.3 This
means that we do not know exactly how many soldiers took part in these
exercises. Additionally, despite initial information that only troops
from Pskov will take part in the exercises, TV reports indicated that
there were also airborne troops from Tula (possibly the 106th Airborne
It’s completely normal for countries to hold military exercises and
it’s completely normal to hold them together with other countries.
However, it was interesting to look at video footage from the exercises
and compare it with the officially published information. As I already
said, Slavyanskoe Bratstvo 2020 were portrayed as
counterterrorism exercises. We can congratulate any measure taken to
combat terrorism, however in this case there are several “buts”.
First, Russia refers to most of its military maneuvers as
counterterrorism exercises. It is a noble goal and means that these
exercises do not pose a threat to other countries. This is where we have
our first BUT. Publicly available video footage from the exercises says
something entirely different. Let’s start with the basics.
What exactly is terrorism? Terrorism is the use of violence to bring
about change. Terrorists use killings, demolition, mutilation or the
threat of violence to sow fear and terrorize individuals, particular
groups of people, communities or governments in order to force them to
give in to their demands. And these demands cannot be met in a
legitimate way. The word terrorism is derived from Latin, meaning “to
Terrorism is an intimidation tactic or the suppression of political
opponents using force. It is necessary to differentiate between the
terms “terror” and “terrorism” because terror is a privilege exercised
by those in power (usually unofficially and secretly done by the state).
Terrorism is a response from those oppressed and dissatisfied – it is a
scare tactic that employs force to demand the regime to listen to the
This means that terrorism cases can be various – from taking hostages
which is done by one or several people, for instance, the hostage
crisis in Paris when an armed man seized several hostages at a kosher
market,6 to large terrorist groups attempting to seize
territories in certain countries declaring these territories their own.
One of the most notable examples of this is ISIS.7
Therefore, counterterrorism exercises focus on practicing freeing
hostages or combating armed groups – groups of people that act outside
of the jurisdiction of any recognized state that use terroristic
methods, instead of democratic ones, to reach their goals.
According to the available information, the military exercises Slavyanskoe Bratstvo 2020 featured
troops, armored equipment, helicopters and airplanes. This means that
these exercises couldn’t possibly have been focused on freeing hostages.
I cannot imagine a scenario where freeing hostages at a market would
require the engagement of combat aircraft. The only thing a hostage
could be freed of in this case is his life along with half of the
apartment block. I found it rather interesting that Russia decided to
engage two Tu-160 strategic bombers in the exercises.8
So, the next logical conclusion is that the exercises were aimed at
combating large terrorist groups. This is where we have our next BUT.
Are there any large terrorist groups in Europe? At least I haven’t heard
Some of you may now say – don’t be silly, they are improving
cooperation in combating terrorist groups in the Caucasus and other warm
places! To this I will reply – stop being silly yourselves. What
self-respecting soldier would prepare for survival in the Arctic by
engaging in exercises in the deserts of Sakhalin or the jungles of
Amazon? Elementary logic and the art of war tell us that exercises
should resemble real circumstances as much as possible, first and
foremost, when it comes to terrain. If there are plans to engage in
military operations in the jungle, the exercises will be held in a
From this we can conclude that the real aim of the exercises was to
prepare for military activities somewhere nearby, and the intended
activities will not be of a defensive character.
In order to understand what the Russian troops were preparing for, it
is necessary to look at what kind of training took place. If a soldier
is taught to dig trenches, it is most likely that he is being prepared
for defensive activities, but if he is trained to fire and cross
obstacles it means he is being prepared for offensive maneuvers.
In one of the publicly available videos from the exercises it is
revealed that the troops freed a waterworks facility (the correspondent
misspoke saying that the facility was seized). First, an air strike was
launched against the object and afterwards troops equipped with diving
equipment were landed in the water from an airplane. The airplanes also
dropped military equipment and troops on the ground.
We have now reached the biggest BUT, i.e. what are airborne units
usually used for? I quote: “Experts note that the tasks of airborne
troops have not changed significantly since the nineties. As before, the
“winged” infantrymen are used to seize bridgeheads and different
objects in the enemy’s rear.”9 The cited article also
mentions that airborne troops can be used to launch unexpected strikes
against illegal armed formations and enemy high tech companies.
What can we conclude from all this? The conclusion is quite logical
and self-evident – airborne troops are not meant to maintain peace, free
hostages, engage in defensive battles or even launch simple attacks.
Airborne troops are used only for serious offensive operations. This
means that every exercise that features airborne troops is aimed at
practicing offensive elements.
Consequently, Slavyanskoe Bratstvo 2020 are not
counterterrorism exercises, as propagated by Russian and Belarusian
media outlets, but instead drills aimed at launching a military
offensive or carrying out a single act of aggression. Considering the
area of the exercises, they are targeting Poland and Lithuania. Of
course, I don’t believe that Russian and Belarusian politicians are
actually considering the idea of engaging in any sort of military
activities in Poland or Lithuania because they are well aware that they
would not be able to deal with the response to such an act.
It doesn’t matter what terms are used to mask the real intention of
military exercises, the truth is that it is mere showing off, first and
foremost, to the people of Russia and Belarus. In Soviet times, boasting
and demonstrations of power were very beloved. Russian and Belarusian
politicians are simply continuing this trend, as they have shown
numerous times that they care deeply for their Soviet heritage.
***Zintis Znotiņš is a freelance independent investigative journalist. He
has studied politics and journalism at the Latvian University.