Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 185

Even as Russian-Belarusan political and economic unification marks time, the two countries’ military establishments seem to be forging ahead with plans to create joint forces and a common basing system. On October 5-6 in Moscow, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev of Russia and Aleksandr Chumakov of Belarus–himself a Russian officer–chaired a joint session of the Collegiums [policy-making bodies] of the two ministries. They discussed and signed a set of documents on the creation of a “regional group of coalitional forces” of the two countries. What they envision is the creation of a standing peacetime force made up of units of the Moscow Military District–whose western boundary coincides with the Russia-Belarus border–and Belarusan forces within that country. The coalition group will use bases, installations, command-and-control posts and military storage sites on Belarusan territory. The signed documents also stipulate upgrading some of those bases and installations, unifying the air defense forces of Russia and Belarus under a single command, and introducing a set of standardization measures for the production and upgrading of equipment in both the Russian and Belarusan military industries.

Following the session, Sergeev described these arrangements as an aspect of the evolving Russia-Belarus Union. The ministerial session followed last week’s publication of a summary of a study by Russia’s Foreign Policy and Defense Council dealing with this topic. The study portrayed the creation of Russia-Belarus joint forces as a means to prevent Russia’s “isolation” in the space between the Baltic and the Black Seas and as a response to NATO’s intentions eventually to accept the Baltic states as members. By all appearances, the military track of Russia-Belarus relations is the fastest and is considered in Moscow a higher priority than a political merger of the two countries (Russian agencies, October 5-6; Nezavisimaya gazeta, October 1).