The Belarus-Russia Union State Military Doctrine (Voyennaya Doktrina Soyuznogo Gosudarstva), signed on November 4, 2021, and released prior to the two countries’ joint military exercise Soyuznaya Reshimost (Allied Resolve) 2022, is notably interlinked with those maneuvers, running from February 10 to 20. Indeed, key elements in the doctrine end up shedding light on the exercise itself and its timing (see Part One in EDM, February 9).
Since announcing the joint drills, Russia’s Armed Forces deployed much of their conventional combat power from the Eastern Military District (MD)—including Missile and Artillery Troops (Raketnyye Voyska i Artilleriya—RV&A) brigades—to Belarus. Those arrayed units have been augmented by deployments from other MDs, involving Ground Forces, Airborne Forces (Vozdushno-Desantnye Voyska—VDV), Aerospace Forces (Vozdushno Kosmicheskikh Sil—VKS), combat support and combat service support, as well as Rosgvardia (National Guard) units (Krasnaya Zvezda, February 7; see EDM, February 14).
Unlike the previous version of the Military Doctrine, from 2001 (Postkomsg.com, December 26, 2001), the latest document explicitly calls out the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a threat to the security of the Union State. Moreover, it elaborates a number of factors related to the overall deterioration of the military-political situation impacting on the security of Belarus and Russia, but it asserts that the Union State does not consider any state or coalition to be its adversary, claiming to build relations with “all states on the basis of equal partnership and cooperation” (Voyennaya Doktrina Soyuznogo Gosudarstva, November 4, 2021, Chapter 2.14).
In order to maintain joint security, both countries form their military policy based upon the “inviolability of the system of universally recognized norms and principles of international law,” while guaranteeing the deterrence of an attack on the Union State using their national Armed Forces, other troops and military formations in the regional grouping of forces (Chapter 2.17). The bedrock of ensuring the security of the Union State rests with the joint regional grouping of forces. However, its importance is paramount in what the doctrine describes as the “period of growing military threat.” In this context, the doctrine states that Minsk and Moscow will coordinate “political, diplomatic and other non-military measures to prevent the outbreak of hostilities” and directly plan the use of the regional grouping of forces, including joint decision-making mechanisms, for preparing and conducting “military operations to repel an attack.” This can also be accompanied by measures to prepare for a wartime economy (Chapter 2.21.2).
In Russian military parlance, the period of growing military threat is referred to as the phase intermediately prior to the “initial period or war.” This means that signs the Union State has entered a period of threat are a strong indicator of impending hostilities. The doctrine, therefore, describes how this period of threat relates to the Union State’s joint (Russian and Belarusian) regional grouping of forces, denoted as Regional’naya Gruppirovka Voysk (Sil) (RGV (S)). Consequently, the doctrine asserts, “During the period of a growing military threat (the period of an immediate threat of aggression), the combat composition and tasks of the RGV (S) are clarified” (Chapter 3.33.2). This involves elucidating and activating the procedures for “the application of the RGV (S) and the joint use of military infrastructure facilities” (Chapter 3.34).
Joint planning for the use of the RGV (S) is the responsibility of the General Staffs in Minsk and Moscow: “Planning for the use of the RGV(S) is carried out by the general staffs of the armed forces of the participating states in advance in peacetime, in accordance with national and joint regulatory legal acts, based on the emerging military-political and military-strategic situation and possible options for its development” (Chapter 3.38). These joint efforts focus on containment, preventing the further destabilization of the situation and working out procedures to deploy the RGV (S): “The planning documents reflect a set of measures for strategic containment, prevention of destabilization of the situation, as well as the procedure for the deployment and use of the RGV (S).” The purpose of activating the RGV (S), according to the military doctrine, is to “repel an attack, defeat the aggressor and create the prerequisites for the cessation of hostilities on conditions that meet the interests of the participating states” (Chapter 3.38).
The doctrine further elaborates that during the period of threat: “the Joint Command of the RGV(S) is formed, which, in accordance with the evolving situation, refines the decisions made (plans developed) and manages the RGV(S).” It makes clear the deployment of the RGV (S) occurs only in the period of threat: “The deployment of the RGV(S) is carried out during a period of growing military threat (the period of an immediate threat of aggression) by decision of the Supreme State Council of the Union State.” Thus, the deployed forces in protection of the Union State can be used either on their own or in combination with the armed forces of either state: “The RGV(S) can be used both independently and jointly with groupings of the national armed forces, other troops and military formations” (Chapters 3.39–3.41).
Considering this linkage between the deployment of the regional grouping of forces and the period of threat, as outlined in the 2021 Union State Military Doctrine, the Allied Resolve 2022 exercise and its scale, thus, appears to be the doctrinal implementation of such measures. If that is the case, Minsk and Moscow assessed that they entered the period of threat in mid-January—when the decision was announced to stage Allied Resolve 2022. That time frame notably coincided with an uptick in the intensity and diversification of the Russian military force buildup close to Ukraine. The announced joint military exercise in Belarus also came after the week (January 10–13) of intensive diplomatic talks between the United States and Russia in Geneva as well as between Moscow and NATO in Brussels and with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna. Shortly after these meetings, Moscow and Minsk evidently concluded they had entered a period of threat and activated the regional grouping of forces in Belarus under the umbrella of Allied Resolve 2022.
Thus, the 2021 Union State Military Doctrine sheds light on Russia’s military movements around Ukraine and as part of Allied Resolve 2022. Moreover, the document signals that the Union State perceives the seriousness of the current crisis as marking a period of threat for both countries. On a more long-term note positive for the Euro-Atlantic alliance, however, the doctrine lays no legal foundation for the future deployment of Russian nuclear weapons to Belarusian territory.