Minsk develops cooperation with NATO and retains military cooperation with Russia
Amidst chill in political relations, Belarus and Russia continue to cooperate in the defence field. Yet Minsk has not risked to use military cooperation to put pressure on the Kremlin. However, it seeks to enhance the military policy dialogue with NATO states.
On December 8th, 2017, the Belarusian Council of Ministers approved the draft programme of the Union State of Belarus and Russia aiming to improve shared military infrastructure facilities. The programme envisages the allocation of some USD 20 million to repair air defence infrastructure facilities, weapons bases/storage facilities, and rear infrastructure facilities (90 objects in total in Belarus and Russia) in 2017-2020.
In early December, the Agreement between the Governments of Belarus and Russia on the joint technical support for regional grouping of troops (forces) (RGT) of the two states, signed in November 2016, was published. The agreement focuses on: providing the RGT with weapons and military equipment, missiles and ammunition, military-technical property; ensuring operation and restoration of weapons and military equipment, missiles and ammunition, as well as military and technical property; holding technical and special trainings for personnel. According to paragraph 4 of the agreement, the parties provide material resources and services for a fee. The agreement and the Union State Programme have solved the issue with Russian military bases in Belarus: the military infrastructure would remain in the Belarusian jurisdiction and Russia would help ensuring its operational efficiency.
That said, Belarus continued to cooperate with NATO: Major-General Oleg Voinov, the head of the Department for International Military Cooperation, took part in the meeting of the NATO-Belarus Committee on Partnership and Joint Security in the "Belarus + NATO" format in Brussels. The parties discussed regional security issues and prospects for Belarus-NATO cooperation. Earlier, on December 4th – 6th, 2017, Latvian Defence Minister Raimonds Bergmanis paid an official visit to Belarus. The parties held bilateral talks in the Defence Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and the Education Ministry.
In talks with the Kremlin, Minsk uses security issues as a bargaining chip and would like to keep it to hand. Meanwhile, Minsk is interested in expanding communication and cooperation with the West through developing military-political relations with NATO as a whole and with some NATO member states. Hence, the Belarusian "military diplomacy" in the West is likely to step up, albeit not necessarily be fruitful.