Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 229

The Russian-Belarusan summit just held in Moscow bore out the earlier observation (see the Monitor, March 26, May 21, June 24, October 7). that the two countries’ military “integration” is advancing faster than their economic, political and institutional integration. The reasons are, first, Moscow’s own order of priorities; and second, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s willingness to enter into close military cooperation as his sole available quid-pro-quo for vital economic handouts from Russia.

While the December 8 union treaty and accompanying action program stipulate a five-year process of political and economic unification, a considerably shorter timeframe is envisaged for the implementation of joint military programs. Military issues formed a distinct chapter on the agenda of Lukashenka’s discussions in Moscow with President Boris Yeltsin on December 8 and with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on December 9; some of those issues were reflected in the action program; and Lukashenka proved more willing than the Russian leaders to broach those issues publicly.

According to him, the sides resolved at least four issues. First, to finalize a single military doctrine in the upcoming year. Second, to select in the same time frame some of the ex-Soviet military bases and installations in Belarus for possible use by Russian forces. Third, to proceed with plans to create a joint “regional group of forces,” made up of Belarusan units and units of the Moscow Military District which abuts on Belarus. Earlier this year, Defense Ministers Igor Sergeev of Russia and Aleksandr Chumakov of Belarus–himself a Russian from the Russian Federation–had agreed on measures to prepare the possible deployment of Russian units at Belarusan bases and installations as part of the joint regional group of forces. Fourth, to draw up a joint military-industrial procurement program and a weapons standardization program, both to take effect in 2001 for a five-year period. The standardization plan is apparently to be understood as a modernization effort.

As the prominent military analyst and deputy director of the Institute for the Study of the USA, Viktor Kremenyuk, observed, the military relationship with Belarus “strengthens the Russian Federation’s strategic position in Europe, enabling Russia to advance to the Belarusan-Polish border and face NATO along that line.” Neither the Russian leaders nor Lukashenka mentioned the fact that Belarus is officially committed to neutrality and that its legislation does not allow the stationing of foreign troops on the country’s territory. That is one part of the legacy of the post-1991 independence, which the Kremlin and Lukashenka are currently dismantling (Itar-Tass, December 7-9; see the Monitor, October 7; Fortnight in Review, October 8).