Zapad-2021 Exercise—One Step from Declared Defense to Active Assault

Sept 17, 2021

In this publication, volunteers of InformNapalm volunteer intelligence community, analyze Zapad-2021 military exercise to demonstrate why it is not a classic defensive exercise as Russia’s propagandists are trying to make believe.

An article titled “Active Phase of Distrust. Why Zapad-2021 Military Exercise Unnerves NATO” was published on the website of TASS, Russia’s Central Governmental News Agency on September 14 (see archived version).

Authors are trying to persuade the readers that the large-scale military exercise of Russia and Belarus is purely defensive and that all criticism from defense ministries of Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, and Ukraine is ostensibly unfounded. In their conclusions, Russian experts made a separate mention of the statement by Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine, made at the international YES Brainstorming forum, on the backdrop of yet another large-scale Russian army exercise on training ranges along the Ukrainian border, that he did not rule out a large-scale Russian invasion.

Strangely, the Russian experts and politicians have been threatening Kyiv incessantly on Russia’s federal TV channels for more than seven years; however, the same politicians and experts keep putting on a show as if Russia does not wage a war against Ukraine even called out on the ample evidence of Russia’s hybrid aggression.

However, even putting aside numerous OSINT investigations providing photographic and video evidence of Russia’s regular forces taking active part in combat in Ukraine’s east in 2014-2021, one cannot be in denial about the fact of Russia’s special operation undertaken in March 2014 to grab Crimea and occupy this part of the Ukrainian sovereign territory. And then a conflict was unleashed in the east of Ukraine to deflect the attention of the international community from the Crimean question. This hybrid aggression is ongoing. At the same time, Russian large-scale military exercises take place every year not only in training ranges deep in Russia’s heartland. They are synchronized with the exercises taking place in occupied Crimea and Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics controlled by the Russian occupation forces.

Zapad-2021—Assault Instead of Defense

According to the legend, the Russian task force purports to repel the opposition’s attack and mount an immediate counterattack. However, all this “counterattack” business is nothing more than a smokescreen, as at the core of this military exercise is an overall offensive operation=, including landings behind the opposing force’s lines, defeating the opposing force with powerful Tornado and Smerch MLRS, area cleanup using Solntsepyok TOS-1A heavy flamethrower, deployment of Orlan-10 UAVs for artillery spotting, and making use of T-72B3 and T-90A main battle tanks for the rapid advance.

Russia has actively deployed these types of weapons and equipment in its hybrid war against Ukraine. For example, they used the MLRS to shell not only the Ukrainian troops but also the residential areas of Kramatorsk and Mariupol.

In recent months, almost all reports from the active combat zone in Ukraine’s east mention spotting Russian Orlan-10 UAVs.

Betting on strike UAVs

On September 13, the press office of Russia’s Ministry of Defense announced that the newest Russian Inokhodets and Lastochka scout and strike UAVs had been used for the first time in the course of the Zapad-2021 exercise in Mulino training grounds.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin came to inspect this equipment together with the minister of defense Sergey Shoygu and the chief of the general staff Valery Gerasimov.

Photo by: Kremlin press service

Forpost and Orlan-10 UAVs that had been spotted many times in the combat zone in Ukraine’s east were used in the course of the exercise in Mulino as well. As of 2021, facts have been established of the deployment in the Donbas of over eight types of different types of Russian military UAVs, in particular Granat-1, Granat-2, Granat-4, Forpost, Orlan-10, Eleron -3SV, Takhion and Zastava.

Russia’s focus on strike UAV’s this year is hardly surprising; Russian generals are quite open about using the Zapad-2021 exercise to train the elements of the combat experience received in Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh. Thus, it can’t be ruled out that the Russian strike UAVs will be deployed in the east of Ukraine as well.


Summing up the above, one can assume that Russia is putting on another act. It speaks about defense, but its actions speak loudly about preparations for an offensive war. Currently, Russia relies on its hybrid “death by a thousand cuts” tactics while using Ukraine’s east as grounds for training its troops and testing modern military equipment.

Having analyzed the Nagorno-Karabakh war, Russia realized that strike-capable UAVs could play a major role in offensive operations. Ukraine should also take heed of this realization because the strike UAVs used by the Ukrainian Army and other modern equipment, especially missiles, are a much better deterrent against the aggressor than the “grave concern.”


  • “Currently, Russia relies on its hybrid “death by a thousand cuts” tactics while using Ukraine’s east as grounds for training its troops and testing modern military equipment.”
    Death by a thousand cuts needs to be inflicted on putler’s nazi regime with the type of real sanctions that will force a 180° turn from the aggressor.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s good to see IN is saying the same thing I’ve been saying and that’s that the invasion of Donbas was originally just a distraction from the real purpose of Putlers actions in Ukraine and that’s to take Crimea. There is always a distraction when dealing with the Moskali.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I would say that Donbas was to consolidate the theft of Crimea. I have little doubt that he would have gone on to take all the Russian-speaking areas along the coast, as well as cities like Kharkiv. The reason he did not do so was a reluctance to commit Russian troops to a full invasion.
        One city that he and his regime covets is Odessa, with its very high 29% ethnic Russian population. But it didn’t work out for the rat. There was an ambush of peaceful pro-Ukrainian demonstrators by putinazi scum that ended in multiple deaths. The putinazi propagandists had some success with their lies about what actually happened, but it died down. They tried something similar in another key city: Mykolaiv, but this time the patriots were ready and managed to nip it in the bud.
        All in all a close thing. Ukraine must thank the volunteer battalions for their great work.
        But putler never intended to give anything back. His scum will only withdraw if kicked out by force or a serious sanctions regime. The latter won’t happen and the former might be a decade or more away.
        I hope I’m wrong though.

        Liked by 2 people

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