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Belarus Resisting Russian Missile Deployment

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By Joshua Kucera*

Russian officials have said that they want to deploy new missiles in Belarus in response to American missile defense deployments in Romania and Poland, a new test for Minsk’s precarious balancing act between Russia and the West.

The United States’s new missile defense site in Romania officially became operational earlier this month, and Russians (justifiably) see the new facility as targeted towards their country. Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised “strong countermeasures” to respond. There have been no official suggestions about what that might entail, but anonymous Russian officials have been saying that one measure could be to deploy Iskander-M missiles in Belarus.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Minsk on May 16 and that proposal was reportedly on the agenda. A source “close to the Russian defense ministry” told the newspaper Kommersant that deploying Iskander-Ms to Belarus would be a “logical response” to the American missile defense installation and other NATO activity close to Russia’s western borders.

During Lavrov’s visit, his Belarusian counterpart Uladzimer Makey criticized the American missile-defense deployment and said that Belarus and Russia agreed to discuss taking “appropriate countermeasures together.”

But behind the cooperative public statements lie substantial differences in what the appropriate response might be. Belarus opposes the Iskander-M deployment, at least on Russia’s terms: while Minsk would be interesting in a donation or even purchase of its own Iskander-Ms, Russia is proposing the missiles be manned by Russian servicemembers, a demand that is apparently unacceptable to the Belarusian side, Kommersant’s source reports.

This follows a similar behind-the-scenes dispute, over the possible establishment of a Russian airbase in Belarus. That issue appears to be settled — for now — as Belarus at the end of last year finally publicly mentioned the proposal, and rejected it. That was a remarkable repudiation of Moscow’s interests in Belarus, which not long ago acted much like a Russian puppet state. But this discussion of the Iskander-M deployment suggests that the Kremlin is not done pushing.

Belarus opposes the system for two reasons, notes Belarusian military analyst Siarhei Bohdan: for one, the presence of Russian troops in Belarus could be used to interfere in Belarus’s internal affairs; and secondly, Belarus’s strategic position of guarding Russia’s western flank is a bargaining chip that it would lose if it were to allow Russians to defend that flank themselves.

Another Belarusian analyst, Alexander Alesin, identifies another reason: Belarus has recently won important diplomatic concessions from the West, including the lifting of sanctions, progress which would be reversed if it were to allow a Russian military facility in the country. (Although the sanctions relief was ostensibly a reward for Minsk making some steps on human rights, Alesin likely correctly identfies the real reason as Minsk’s recent attempts to resist Russia’s geopolitical ambitions.)


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EurasiaNet

EurasiaNet

Originally published by EurasiaNet.org. EurasiaNet provides information and analysis about political, economic, environmental, and social developments in the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus as well as in Russia, the Middle East and Southwest Asia. Copyright (c) 2003 Open Society Institute. Reprinted with the permission of the Open Society Institute, 400 West 59th Street, New York, NY 10019 USA, www.EurasiaNet.org or www.soros.org

2 thoughts on “Belarus Resisting Russian Missile Deployment

  • May 31, 2016 at 6:39 am
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    Minsk has to be a bit careful. It is clear that the EU and especially the US, want to push Belarus into the EU and specifically, NATO to separate it from Russia. That would be a very precarious move from the part of Belarus, as it would end up being the punching ball between the US and Russia. Belarus should keep loyal to Russia and instead fight if the EU wants to restore sanctions that were not imposed due to any missiles. A Russian base in Belarus at this point would in fact be a good defense of Belarus which is not wealthy enough to have a strong army and defense. Nor would this take away its bargaining chips with Russia as being the protecting west wing. But it might in fact be the beginning for a military alliance that in time could evolve into a counterpart to NATO by including also other EEU and in time Asian countries. That in turn would likely be the best defense for all of Eurasia and Belarus should take such projects into account before it refuses to host Russian Iskander missiles. That Russia wants to have control of them is also obvious: it will be Russia who decides when to use these missiles. That will both prevent accidental use of the missiles that could then trigger WW3 and it will make Belarus the number one nation to be responsible together with China to safeguard the entire Eurasian union and continent from the border with the EU all the way to Asia. That will be a way bigger bargaining chip for Belarus. All the more given that it was scared to death of a few teddy bears parachuted into Belarus!

    Reply
  • May 31, 2016 at 6:45 am
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    When you look at the map, it is clear that in order to keep the peace between NATO and Russia, Norway, the Baltics, Belarus and Ukraine should have been declared and left to be neutral, that is, not part of either NATO the EU or the EEU and any future Eurasian “counter-NATO”. Unfortunately, the US with its endless hubris of world hegemony cannot accept that. If Belarus now joins with Russia to stage missiles directed at the EU and manned by Russia, that will also be a counter defense. Given that Belarus is now the only country defending Russia against the EU and NATO, that would give Belarus a much larger role. Maybe the missiles can be manned jointly between Russia and Belarus and a military base can also be joint between the two nations. Given the enormity of the task and the impossibility of Belarus to assume that task alone, that would be a good and fair compromise. And it would keep the US and NATO and EU parasites out.

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