Who's Afraid of Big, Bad Zapad?

As Russia gears up for the Zapad 2017 military exercise, some neighbors are showing greater concern than others.


Zapad 2017, a massive joint Russia-Belarus military exercise, begins Thursday. The exercise will take place in Belarus and Kaliningrad, near the borders of Poland and the Baltic states. Many NATO members are concerned. Yet, Predata signals show interest in the exercise varies by country.


Russian digital attention to Zapad peaked in early August and has been stable since then. Digital attention in Belarus started to spike in mid-August and continues at a relatively high level. This attention has not been entirely positive: On September 8, a small demonstration against the joint Russia-Belarus military exercise was held in Minsk.


Digital attention to Zapad in Finland, Sweden and Norway has increased significantly in the last week. The upcoming Aurora Exercise in Sweden, which features a scenario involving a foreign attack on Sweden, has almost certainly contributed to this spike in attention in all three countries.


Counterintuitively, digital attention in the Baltic states (except Estonia) and Poland has been muted. It may be that the populations of these countries, having already assessed the Russian military threat to be high, view Zapad as simply the current manifestation of that threat.