The top hierarchy of the Russian and Belarus Defense Ministries conferred December 8 and 9 in Minsk and signed a total of 18 interministerial and inter-service agreements and protocols of intent. Some of the agreements are said to cover: military-industrial cooperation; withdrawal in 1996 of Russia’s last two strategic missile regiments, comprising 18 launchers, from Belarus (Moscow has withdrawn to date seven regiments comprising 71 launchers, according to Russia’s strategic missile force commander, Col. General Igor Sergeev); joint Russian-Belarus planning regarding regional security; joint use of Belarus military infrastructure and airfields in the interest of regional security; and joint protection of the two countries’ airspace through common use of the air defense system in Belarus. The commander of Russia’s air defense system, Col. General Viktor Prudnikov, said at the Minsk talks that the air defense system in Belarus was one of the most advanced in the former USSR and that Belarus had on the whole preserved its surface-to-air missiles and interceptor aircraft forces in good order. Early this year Belarus reportedly granted Russia rent-free use of a missile attack early warning complex near Baranovichi.
The two ministers, General Pavel Grachev and Lt. General Leonid Maltsev, agreed to hold meetings of this type every six months. Grachev and Belarus president Aleksandr Lukashenko met separately and agreed on the importance of Russia-Belarus military cooperation both in the framework of the CIS collective security treaty and on a bilateral basis. But Grachev stressed that he saw bilateral relations as the best way for promoting multilateral cooperation. Both sides publicly criticized NATO’s possible enlargement, with Maltsev targeting neighboring Poland, and Grachev warning that Russia would respond by creating "another political-military bloc" and repudiate the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty. (10)
The agreements and understandings, if implemented, would go some way toward creating a Russia-Belarus military alliance. Moscow’s intent to use Belarus for leapfrogging Ukraine had been apparent for some time, as in the 1994 agreement among Russian and Belarus border troops regarding joint protection of Belarus borders. A return of Russian troops to former USSR bases in Belarus, should it occur, would bring them to the rear of Ukraine, fronting on Poland’s eastern border, and enveloping Lithuania and Latvia, potentially heightening the sense of insecurity in all these countries. Belarus could constitute a major prize for Russia in terms of forward basing of its forces.
Moldova, US Sign Military Agreement.