Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 239

According to Russian defense minister Igor Sergeev, creation of a "single defense space" of Russia and Belarus, and the agreements to that effect signed on December 19 in Minsk, represent the military dimension of the Russia-Belarus Union. Belarusan president Alyaksandr Lukashenka similarly stated on the occasion that the agreements aim to defend "our common fatherland and the borders of the Russia-Belarus Union." (Radio Minsk, December 19)

Sergeev and Belarusan defense minister Aleksandr Chumakov (a native of Russia) signed a package of nine military agreements. The subject matter — though not the actual content — of five of the agreements has been revealed: these deal with the principles of bilateral military cooperation, joint actions to ensure regional security, unification of air defense forces, military-industrial cooperation, and the creation and work plan of a joint "kollegium" [top-level policy and management board] of the two countries’ Defense Ministries.

One or several of the agreements cover the use of military airports, testing ranges, and other military facilities in Belarus by Russian forces jointly with Belarusan forces. Sergeev stated that Russia "does not plan to station its forces in Belarus inasmuch as NATO has pledged not to station its forces in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary." Members of his delegation stated more directly that Russian "Russian military groupings may be deployed in Belarus in response to crisis warnings." This suggests that Moscow currently plans to move units from time to time in and out of Belarus for exercises, and that it wants to signal that it may station its forces in Belarus if NATO forces are deployed in the new member countries.

According to Russian General Staff officials accompanying Sergeev, the "single defense space" will encompass the entire territory of Belarus and the western regions of Russia. The same officials stated that the Belarusan armed forces "currently possess sufficient amounts of modern arms and hardware" — apparently an indication that Moscow does not have immediate plans to resupply the Belarusan forces.

Sergeev presented Russia-Belarus military cooperation as a response to "NATO’s eastward movement and to the U.S. policy aiming at world leadership by a single country." Disclaiming any intention to "surprise" NATO, he hoped that the alliance would accept this development "with understanding." (Russian agencies, December 19, 22)

In a follow-up statement, Chumakov announced that the National Security Council of Belarus is finalizing a new military doctrine, to supersede the one adopted in 1992. He specified that the new doctrine will reflect the emergence of Russia-Belarus Union. (Itar-Tass, December 21) The 1992 military doctrine had been predicated on the neutrality of Belarus.

That neutrality is being rapidly nullified by the Russia-Belarus Union and its growing military component. This lends a farcical note to the recent acquisition by Belarus of observer status in the "nonalignment movement," which came thanks to Russian and Cuban support.

Political Relations Also Warming.