German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen told journalists in Tallinn on Thursday, Censor.NET reports citing Reuters.
The Sept. 14-20 exercises known as Zapad, or "West" in Belarus, the Baltic Sea, western Russia and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, are stirring unease in NATO despite Moscow's assurances troops would rehearse a purely defensive scenario.
"It is undisputed that we are seeing a demonstration of capabilities and power of the Russians," German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen told reporters at an EU defense ministers' meeting in Tallinn.
"Anyone who doubts that only has to look at the high numbers of participating forces in the Zapad exercise: more than one hundred thousand," she said in a joint news conference with her French counterpart Florence Parly.
While Baltic nations have voiced concerns about a bigger-than-reported exercise and while NATO's secretary-general expects more than 13,000 troops, Von der Leyen's remarks are the first time a top Western politician has called out Russia publicly on what NATO sees as the true size of the war games.
Such numbers would be legal under international treaties on war games, but would require inviting international observers.
With less than 13,000 troops, international observation of the drills is not mandatory, Russia says.
"Russia has a global strategy of a visible, deliberate demonstration of force," Parly said before heading to meet French troops in Estonia as part of NATO's deployment of deterrent forces in the Baltics and Poland.
"They have a strategy of intimidation," Parly said, warning that any attack on a Baltic country or Poland by Russia would be considered an attack on all of the U.S.-led NATO alliance.
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