Belarus is losing control to Kremlin over defence system

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April 22, 2016 18:59

Official Minsk is yielding to the Kremlin’s pressure in terms of allowing a larger Russian military presence in Belarus. The Kremlin does not intend to modernise the Belarusian army or equip it with modern weapons, as this could strengthen Belarus’ political independence. By beefing up her military presence in Belarus, Russia aims to fortify her western borders and exert additional pressure on the Belarusian leadership, as well as on other countries in the region.

Russian Air Force Commander Colonel, General Bondarev, said that Russia would create a Russian airbase in Bobruisk in 2016 with Su 27s jet fighters.

Originally, Russia planned to set up an airbase in Lida (Grodno region) in 2015. Later, Russia decided to transfer a regiment of 24 SU 27SM3s to an airport in Baranavichi (Brest region). Most recently, Russian Air Force Commander, Vladimir Bondarev, said that the terms of reference for the airbase in Bobruisk (Mogilev region) in 2016 had already been drafted.

Recently, the Belarusian government has tried to negotiate with the Kremlin to receive a supply of upgraded MiG-29s or Su-30s for the Belarusian Air Force instead of having a Russian air base in Belarus. For instance, Minsk held talks with Moscow over the transfer of 8 Su-30Ks to Belarus, which were returned to Russian in 2013 after being used by the Indian Air Force. However, in the end, the aircraft were repaired at a plant in Baranovichi and sold to Angola as Su-30KNs.

The Belarusian Air Force and Armed Forces Commander Major General Dvigalev said that the Belarusian Air Force would receive four Yak-130 aircrafts in Q1 2015. The contract between the Belarusian Ministry of Defence and the JSC Irkut Corporation for the supply of four combat training aircrafts Yak-130 was signed in December 2012.

For many years, Belarus’ president was asking the Kremlin to supply the S-300 mobile system to Belarus (they were signed off from the Russian army and replaced with the S-400s). In July 2014, a donation agreement was signed to supply four S-300 battalions to Belarus, but they have not yet been given to the Belarusian Army. In his last speech addressing the Russian regional media, President Lukashenko made a harsh comment in relation to the Kremlin’s military cooperation policy, “you know, others help us to learn how to do something we do not yet know, but not Russians”.

It should be noted that the Russian airbase that was due to be set up in Bobruisk in 2015 has been delayed until 2016. This is unlikely to be the result of only technical issues. Most likely, due to the Kremlin’s aggressive foreign policy and recent events in Ukraine, President Lukashenko wants to avoid additional pressure and threats from the Kremlin before and during the presidential campaign in Belarus in 2015.

The Kremlin seeks to increase Belarus’ dependence on Russia so as to have more leverage for pressuring the Belarusian leadership, especially over foreign policy and privatisation. Thanks to maintaining an independent position regarding the events in Ukraine and successful manoeuvering in the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, Belarus has managed to bargain some short-term gains from the Kremlin in the oil sector for 2015. However, Moscow’s resources to buy the loyalty of its allies are shrinking significantly and it is increasingly resorting to power measures to limit official Minsk’s room for manoeuvre.

In the future, Russia might limit her assistance to modernising Belarus’ army, instead increasing her military presence in the country. The Belarusian Army has a modest budget and will be unable to modernise its assets independently, thus yielding to the Kremlin’s pressure to increase Russian military presence in Belarus.

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The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.

Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.

Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.

In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.

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