Communication analysis of ZAPAD 2021 indicated a presence of a number of complex information influence operations that were employed by Russia and Belarus to exploit the information environments of neighbouring states’ and manipulate public debate on the conduct of the drills.
The analysis was carried out in cooperation with NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence Riga, Latvia.
On 10-16 September 2021, Russia conducted the formal part of ZAPAD 2021, one in a cycle of annual military exercises which represent the culmination of training by the Russian Federation Armed Forces in a given year. The military exercise included a powerful communication campaign in the form of messages and narratives.
As ‘Zapad’ (the Russian word for ‘west’) suggests, the exercise is centred on what Russia calls the Western strategic sector or ‘direction’. ZAPAD 2021 included Belarus. Accordingly, it was termed ‘a joint strategic exercise’, primarily to emphasise the participation of Belarus as well as that of the Russia-controlled Collective Security Treaty Organisation. ZAPAD 2021 was preceded by weeks of preparatory and associated exercises, and, as repeatedly emphasised by Russia, involved as many as 200,000 troops, drawn predominantly from Russia.