By Paul Goble
Even as the European Union has expressed alarm at Russia’s militarization of Kaliningrad and occupied Crimea (vz.ru/news/2017/12/10/898876.html), a Belarusian military expert says that Moscow is now moving tanks and other heavy weapons into his country and thus taking another “step toward war.”
The Belarusian government has been consistent in resisting Moscow’s demand that it permit the Russian military to establish a permanent military base in Belarus, but now Moscow is doing the next best thing from its point of view, moving heavy weapons into Belarus on the basis of the Union State agreement between the two countries “for joint use.”
Queried by Radio Liberty’s Belarusian Service as to whether this constituted the creation of a Russian base by the back door, the Belarusian defense ministry responded with a question of its own “What bases?” and promised to give more details later but then didn’t answer its phone (svaboda.org/a/28905621.html and belaruspartisan.org/politic/408751/).
Belarusian military expert Aleksandr Alesin says that the latest Russian moves mean that “Belarus and Russia are beginning to prepare more seriously for a future war with ‘our Western partners’” because now the Russian army has de facto what it earlier had hoped to achieve de jure, the basing of tanks and other weaponry to the west of the Russian border.
The Zapad-2017 maneuvers showed, the military specialist continues, that “if the Russian part of this group is based in Russia,” moving it forward is a question “not of days or weeks.” But if the equipment is prepositioned in Belarus, the amount of time needed for it to launch an attack on NATO forces is much reduced, to hours rather than even days.
He estimates that Moscow may put up to 400 tanks in Belarus under this latest agreement with Minsk, not to mention additional armored vehicles and other heavy weapons. Nominally at least, these will all remain under “Belarusian jurisdiction,” and consequently, there won’t be any issue of “foreign basing.”
What Russian forces are doing is the mirror image of what American forces have long done with Washington’s NATO allies, prepositioning heavy equipment that can be moved only by ship so that personnel who can be flown in at the last minute can be joined to them to form a serious military force, Alesin says.
Many in the Belarusian military will be pleased by this development because they will gain access to and experience with advanced Russian weaponry, but many Belarusian civilians, especially those in Borisov, Bobruisk, and Baranovichey where most of the Russian weapons are being placed won’t be because they will thus become targets in the event of a war.