Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 82

Russia and Belarus have decided to create a joint “regional group of armed forces,” according to Russian Defense Minister Marshal Igor Sergeev, who was interviewed yesterday (Krasnaya zvezda, April 27). Sergeev headed a Russian military delegation to Belarus last week for discussions with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and military officials.

It was agreed that the joint military force would be based on the territories of both countries–a euphemistic way of announcing the return of Russian forces to Belarus. Lukashenka took credit for the fact that Belarus “never laid claim to former Soviet military property in Belarus”–an apparent hint that ex-Soviet bases in Belarus stand available for Russian use. The joint force would be armed and equipped from a single source–a formula implying that Russia plans to upgrade the Belarusan units which will be assigned to the planned joint force. It was further agreed to work out a common military procurement plan of Russia and Belarus for the next year and, as a follow-up, for the period 2001-2005. Russia intends to deliver S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Belarus, and has consented to “production”–more plausibly, assembly–of Russian Su-27 fighter-bombers in Belarus. Joint Russian-Belarusan protection of the borders of Belarus is also planned (Krasnaya zvezda, April 27; Russian agencies, April 23, 24, 27).

A “regional group of forces” would, in effect, place selected Belarusan units under Russian command and establish a functioning military alliance of the two countries. The Russia-Belarus Union Treaty includes only a vaguely worded clause on mutual military assistance against aggression. The plan to form a joint group of forces has been under active consideration for some time as a military concomitant to discussions on political unification of Russia and Belarus. Sergeev’s visits to Belarus in recent months advanced the planning process. Sergeev seems to drive this process on a very long leash from the Russian political leadership. Moscow has until recently rationalized this plan as a response to NATO’s enlargement in Central Europe. At the moment, however, Moscow finds it more expedient to portray this plan as a response to NATO’s action in the Balkans.