At the direction and under the supervision of Putin, Lukashenka is rapidly turning Belarus into a buffer zone between Russia and the West, turning it Into Russia’s powerful military bridgehead, from which it (Russia) will be able to threaten the West more actively in response to Western democracy’s efforts to curb virtually undisguised Russian international aggression.
On 9 September, Russian S-400 systems in the city of Grodno and Su-30SM systems in Baranovichi were already on combat duty. On the same day, Lukashenka and Putin endorsed a programme for further integration under a bilateral agreement. During the meeting, Putin said, the leaders discussed the formation of a “common defence area between the two countries and security issues.”
The deployment of S-400 is a step aimed at the NATO bloc, the Western audience, the United States. It testifies to the readiness of the “duo” of allied countries for any twists in relations with the West. Russia, of course, supports this stance.
Back in June this year, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned Russian President Vladimir Putin and self-proclaimed President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenka against destabilising the situation on the Alliance’s eastern flank. He said NATO was ready to protect and defend “any ally against any kind of threat coming from Minsk and Moscow.” He said this in an interview with the Welt. The NATO Secretary General emphasised that NATO’s partnership agreement with Belarus had been significantly scaled back and would be reviewed further.
However, the dictators of Russia and Belarus are not calming down. The large-scale Zapad 2021 military exercises, launched by Russia and Belarus on 9 September this year in the territories of their countries, are another manifestation of the aggressive plans of the Kremlin and its satellite. Who do the union states intend to fight against?
While conducting any exercises of the armed forces, the parties to the conditional conflict are always given conditional names. It is often not very difficult to understand which countries are meant. The names of conventional adversaries on Zapad 2021 exercise maps quite clearly hint at who the Kremlin and Minsk consider their enemies. So far, conditional ones. Niarys is, apparently, Lithuania, and Pomorye is Poland.
Polar Republic is the name of the forces capable of operating in the north. At the same time, although the troops of the Northern Fleet of the Russian Defence Ministry were not on the list of units involved, its marines landed in the Kaliningrad region as part of the exercises. Therefore, the term “polar” can mean not only the terrain but also political landmarks.
Although Ukraine is marked on these maps as “Neutral,” everything has long been clear with Ukraine – it is the main enemy of Eastern European autocrats. But until recently, Poland and Lithuania were rather secondary political opponents of Moscow and Minsk.
Over the past year, Warsaw and Vilnius, having shown firmness in relations with Belarus and Russia, have also become their enemies. One example of this is the incident with illegal immigrants from the Middle East, whom the Belarusian authorities are provoking to illegally cross its borders with European countries. First, it is obvious that Lukashenka did not make the decision to carry out the operation on his own. Without the Kremlin’s approval of the “project,” the Belarusian dictator will not move. Second, Lukashenka de facto declared war on the West, so illegal migrants have become a kind of weapon in his hands, while the operation itself is hybrid aggression.
Russia clearly feels out the West, hoping to understand where the ultimate “red line” is. This is proved by the constant violation of the borders of Western countries by Russian military aircraft, or the relatively recent incident with a British ship in the Black Sea.
Most Western military experts believe that this year’s Zapad 2021 exercise is a demonstration of Russia’s readiness for military conflict against Western countries. Moreover, they anticipate that part of the Russian forces and equipment will, first, remain near their borders after the exercises and, second, will remain in the territory of Belarus. This would be a logical continuation of “the dissolution of the subjectivity of Lukashenka’s Belarus in Putin’s Russia.” Russian troops in Belarusian territory benefit Lukashenka, who now actually serves as Putin’s governor as he would receive additional protection in case of a surge in protests.
So far, Lukashenka actively refutes the idea of placing the Russian Armed Forces in the territory of Belarus permanently. In his public statements, he points out: “If there are some concerns, if we see NATO intensifying, up to the military conflict, Russian units and troops will be redeployed to Belarus during the day (our bases, airfields and other defined).”
According to him, this will be done only in case of aggravation of the “military situation.” “There was no discussion about the deployment of Russia’s armed forces on a permanent basis, the creation of any bases. It is out of question, and we don’t need that,” Lukashenka stressed.
But such statements run counter to the information posted on the website of the Federal Treasury of Russia, where the Ministry of Defence is holding a tender “for the organisation and conduct of comprehensive maintenance of the barrack accommodation of military camps of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation located in the territory of the Republic of Belarus.” Zapad 2021 joint exercises were officially held until 16 September. However, according to the announcement, 16 September is only the tender submission deadline and, therefore, the return of the Russian military forces from the territory of Belarus is not planned.
So most likely, the “complete and total” withdrawal of Russian troops from the territory of Belarus after the Zapad 2021 exercises should not be expected. And in the near future, Belarusians will have to completely abandon any hope for a “free Belarus” to please the aggressive imperial plans of the aging dictator and his longtime henchman.
Yuri Fedorenko, Head of NGO “Agency for Development of Democracy and Information Freedoms”
Views of the author do not necessarily reflect the official position of the editorial staff