Russia’s conventional Armed Forces have deployed approximately 30,000 personnel to Belarus for the joint strategic-operational military exercise Allied Resolve (Soyuznaya Reshimost) 2022, scheduled for February 10–20, by far eclipsing any previous deployment to the country since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 (see EDM, January 26, February 2). While the exercise occurs in the context of the Russian force buildup in proximity to Ukraine’s borders, its political-military significance is better understood in reference to the Russia-Belarus Union State Military Doctrine (Voyennaya Doktrina Soyuznogo Gosudarstva), signed into law on November 4, 2021, and publicly released ahead of Allied Resolve 2022. The new Union State Military Doctrine reveals the underlying defense planning and military thought concerning the shifts in the threat landscape, the issue of Russia’s nuclear deterrence linked to protecting Belarus, and the doctrinal basis for the Russian deployments for Allied Resolve 2022 (Union State Military Doctrine, November 4, 2021).
The 2021 Union State Military Doctrine supersedes the previous iteration, signed into law on December 26, 2001. Given the length of time since its earlier version, the current doctrine reflects changes in Moscow and Minsk’s strategic threat assessment. The eighteen-page 2021 Union State Military Doctrine divides into five chapters: general provisions; military and political basis of support for military security; basics of organization and support of joint defense; military and economic basis for military security; and final provisions (Union State Military Doctrine, November 4, 2021).
In the general provisions of the doctrine, its legal basis is set out and critical terms are defined. These encompass “military threat,” “military danger” and “military conflict.” It also uses two important terms relating to joint military exercises and possible operations: the “Regional Grouping of Troops (Forces)” (Regional’naya Gruppirovka Voysk [Sil]—RGV [S]) and the “period of growing military threat (period of immediate threat of aggression)”
(period narastaniya voyennoy ugrozy [period neposredstvennoy ugrozy agressii]). (Union State Military Doctrine, November 4, 2021). In the quadrennial West (Zapad) joint military exercises and the interspersed Union Shield (Shchit Soyuza) drills, the regional grouping of forces are formed and jointly trained. Allied Resolve 2022 follows this pattern but on an entirely new level.
The new military doctrine characterizes the military-political situation around the Union State as experiencing an increase in “negative processes” linked to global and regional security, caused by “geopolitical rivalry between leading world powers and by the clash of interest of individual states” (Chapter 2, 6). Among several negative factors influencing the military-political situation are “attempts to change value orientations and development models, discredit cultures, religions and civilizations, [as well as] falsify history, contributing to the violation of the spiritual and ethical ties of kindred peoples.” Another negative factor the doctrine points out is some international organizations and individual states opposing the further development of the Union State and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). This is accompanied by the presence of “hotbeds of military conflicts” close to the Union State and, “building up the power potential of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO] on the external border of the Union State” (Chapter 2, 7).
In addition to mentioning NATO in this context—which was absent in the 2001 doctrine—the second chapter details the military dangers and military threats facing Belarus and Russia. Among these is the “the refusal of individual states to participate in international treaties in the field of arms control, creating conditions for an unlimited concentration of troops, weapons, military and special equipment on the territories of states adjacent to the Union State.” Also mentioned is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD—asserting that the leadership of some states seek to place WMD close to the borders of the Union State). Moreover, the document lists “the creation and deployment of strategic missile defense systems that undermine global stability and disrupt the existing balance of forces in the nuclear and missile sphere, the implementation of the global strike concept, the intention to place weapons in space, as well as the deployment of strategic non-nuclear systems of precision weapons” (Chapter 2.11). These assertions are meant as a critique of the United States’ and NATO’s European security policies.
The main military threats to the Union State are depicted as “the concentration of the armed forces of another state (other states) along the borders of the participating states in the Eastern European region of collective security, indicating the intention to use military force against the Union State,” armed conflicts close to its borders, “mobilization” intended to commit acts of aggression against the Union State, as well as “information and communications technologies and their potential use, including information warfare, violating territorial integrity and state sovereignty, and interfering in the internal affairs of either Belarus or Russia.” The doctrine also refers to threats from extremism and terrorism (Chapter 2, 13).
Despite the negative references to NATO, the doctrine suggests both Moscow and Minsk seek to cooperate not only with other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) but with the European Union and NATO “in order to strengthen regional stability and security on the principles of equality and mutual consideration of interests” (Chapter 2, 19). Furthermore, concerning the actions of the Union State in wartime, the doctrine refers to the need to implement measures and facilitate joint decision-making to repel an attack and use international organizations—such as the CSTO—to force an aggressor to peace. However, on the issue of nuclear deterrence, it states, “The nuclear weapons of the Russian Federation will remain an important factor in preventing the outbreak of nuclear military conflicts and military conflicts using conventional weapons” (Chapter 2, 22). This is a condensed version of a similar clause in the 2001 military doctrine.
“The nuclear weapons of the Russian Federation are seen as a means of deterring large-scale aggression against the participating states, ensuring their military security, and maintaining international stability and peace. At the same time, the participating states consider it possible to use the nuclear weapons of the Russian Federation in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against them, as well as in response to large-scale aggression using conventional weapons in situations that are critical for the security of any of the participating states” (Union State Military Doctrine, December 26, 2001, Chapter 1.4). Thus, the 2021 doctrine does not explicitly form a legal and doctrinal basis to move Russian strategic or tactical nuclear weapons to the territory of Belarus.