Russia berates German defense minister for war games remarks

People take part in a rally to protest against the upcoming Zapad-2017 war games, held by Russian and Belarussian servicemen, and to mark the Day of Belarussian Military Glory in Minsk, Belarus September 8, 2017. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s Defence Ministry on Saturday criticized German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, saying it was bewildered by her assertion that Moscow planned to send more than 100,000 troops to war games on NATO’s eastern flank this month.

On Thursday, the German defense minister said the war games, code named Zapad or “West”, were a clear “demonstration of capabilities and power of the Russians”.

“Anyone who doubts that only has to look at the high numbers of participating forces in the Zapad exercise: more than one hundred thousand,” von der Leyen told reporters at an EU defense ministers’ meeting in Tallinn.

Russia has said that its joint war games with Belarus will be purely defensive in nature, rejecting what it called false allegations that it might use the drills to train for invasions of Poland, Lithuania or Ukraine.

“We are bewildered by the statements of Ursula von der Leyen, publicly talking through her hat and making arbitrary allegations about 100,000 Russian troops ...and about hidden threats to Europe,” Russia’s military said in a statement.

Russia has said around 13,000 troops from Russia and Belarus and almost 700 pieces of military hardware will be used in the exercises to be held in Belarus, the Baltic Sea, western Russia and Russia’s exclave of Kaliningrad on Sept. 14-20.

General Valery Gerasimov, chief of Russia’s general staff, used a meeting on Thursday with General Petr Pavel, chairman of the NATO military committee, to reassure him about the upcoming war games.

“It is hard to imagine that Ursula von der Leyen’s colleagues from NATO, other competent German ministries or her own subordinates deliberately misled her,” Russia’s defense ministry said. “It is much easier to suppose the opposite.”

(For a graphic on Russia's Zapad war games, click

Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; editing by Jason Neely