Visiting an air defense unit and research center yesterday, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka disclosed plans to spend scarce funds in order to modernize the ground-to-air missile arsenal in Belarus. Portraying this effort as a service to Russia, Lukashenka publicly appealed to Russian scientists to participate in the program alongside “specialists whom we inherited from the USSR.” He emphasized that Belarus helps fill a wide gap–between the Baltic states and Ukraine–in Russia’s strategic defenses while NATO enlarges eastward.
Lukashenka lashed out at Russia’s leadership (alluding to Boris Yeltsin without naming him) for the “gross political error” of having agreed “under American pressure” to remove the ex-Soviet strategic nuclear missiles from Belarus. The program began in 1992, and the last strategic missile was reported removed in late 1996. In his televised statement yesterday, Lukashenka took credit for having delayed the program–despite “Western and Russian joint pressure”–after coming to power in 1994.
According to Lukashenka, “Russia became more compliant toward NATO after the withdrawal of missiles from Belarus.” He vowed to continue rejecting Western demands to scrap the launching pads for strategic missiles. This chain of reasoning suggests that Lukashenka would personally favor a return of some type of Russian missiles to Belarus in response to NATO’s enlargement (Russian agencies, NTV, September 23).
KUCHMA HOPES FOR “WINTER WITHOUT UPHEAVALS” AFTER TALKS ON RUSSIAN GAS.