The opaqueness surrounding the drills heightens concerns about Russia’s intention.

On two occasions in the past seven years Russian military drills turned out to be forward battle deployments: the Kavkaz exercise in 2008, which became a prelude to the brief war on Georgia, and the large-scale “snap” drill along the Ukrainian border in February 2014, which was followed by the occupation of Crimea.

Happening as it is at a time of the worst West-Russia relations since the end of the Cold War — in the aftermath of the diplomatic tit-for-tats between Moscow and Washington, the imposition of new sanctions on Russia by the US Congress, and after NATO has doubled the number of times it has scrambled fighters to respond to Russian aircraft along NATO’s borders from just over 400 in 2015 to nearly 800 in 2016 — the use of Zapad to poke at the NATO’s Eastern flank cannot be excluded.