Tensions between Russia and Belarus have deteriorated even more after the categorical refusal of Minsk to place a of the Russian Air Force in Bobruisk. Alexander Lukashenko said that from a military point of view, the deployment of additional troops is useless, proposing instead of the construction of an air base to give Belarus 20 fighter planes to strengthen the joint air defense system.
Nasha Versia figured out whether Russia needs a military base in Belarus and why Minsk refuses to place the Russian military contingent in its territory. The issue of permanent military presence of the Russian military aviation in Belarus has been actively discussed for nearly seven years. In December 2013, it looked like the situation has moved from the dead point: then a forward-deployed element was transferred to the airport in Baranovichy: four Su-27SMs, which for some time carried on combat duty in conjunction with the Air Force of Belarus. After that, it was reported on the establishment of aviation commandant's office and the possible deployment of Russian aircraft in Lida district. At the end of 2014 there were even more detailed talks about the creation of the Russian military base: Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said that in 2015 at the airport near Bobruisk was to be deployed a regiment of twelve Su-27, two Su-27UB and four Mi -8. However, these plans have not been implemented; Moreover, in October 2015 Lukashenko said that the Russian military base on the territory of Belarus was not going to appear.
Leonid Ivashov, president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, Head of the Main Directorate of International Military Cooperation of the Ministry of Defense in 1996-2001, Colonel-General:
"At present, Minsk keeps neutrality. The Belarusian leadership does not want the deterioration of relations with its western neighbors, since they have established strong economic ties. Moreover, it is difficult to understand why Russia needed an air base in Belarus. From a military point of view its presence in Belarus is not obvious: there is an agreement, according to which Lukashenko is ready to provide the airport, and just before it was planned that in case of need in connection with the aggravation of the situation, the Russian regiment will be deployed on a Belarusian airfield. Apparently, in this situation we need to find a joint solution. In any case one should not bring these contradictions to the level of leadership of the country; first, the issue must be coordinated at the joint board of the two defense ministries. It necessary to agree on this level: if the military does not agree, then aggravation of the situation on the political level is inappropriate.
Belarusians have forgotten about the agreement
Nevertheless, in September 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered to sign an agreement on the establishment of a Russian air base in Belarus, instructing the Russian Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry to hold talks with Minsk. It was assumed that to ensure the safety of Russian borders in this area an air base near Bobruisk will accomodate a rather serious contingent: a bombers regiment, the regiment of fighter-bombers, and fighter regiment. However, on October 6, a few days before the next presidential elections in Belarus, Lukashenko refused to permit it contrary to an agreement. Morever, he said that he had never discussed with Russia the creation of military bases on the territory of the republic.
In April 2016 the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs categorically stated that the issue was finally closed. In October 2016, a group of bloggers reported that four Su-27SMs, which previously had been on duty in Baranovichy, could not be found in fresh satellite images since May 2016, on the basis of this, it was concluded that the aircrafts returned to Russia. Officially, the withdrawal of aircrafts, if it indeed happened, has never been officially mentioned by the authorities of Russia or Belarus.
Not that the original statements about placing of Russian military base in Belarus appeared on the background of the US preparation for the establishment of the missile defense echelons in Central European countries. However, in May last year, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that the establishment of the airbase was not associated with the construction of the European missile defense: it was necessary to facilitate the organization of joint protection of the external border of the Union State. Indeed, Belarus has long been a military ally of Russia, the countries have a common air defense system and are part of the CSTO bloc. Now in Belarus there are Russian soldiers; two major Russian military facilities: RLS Volga in Gantsevichi (near Baranovichi) and the 43rd node communication of the Navy in Vileyka.
The first object was put on combat duty in October 2003, it is part of the missile attack warning system; Russia rents it until 2020. The second provides a link to the Main Staff of the Navy's nuclear submarines, which perform combat duty in the Atlantic, Indian and, partially, Pacific Oceans. However, the emergence of the Russian air base would mean that the military presence of Russia in Belarus enters a new level. Having its own base, according to experts, Russia will be able to place different types of military aircraft, including those capable of carrying nuclear weapons. It is noteworthy that the draft agreement on the base didn't include any weapons range or the number of personnel.
Weapons in exchange for a military presence
Political scientists have concluded that the stubbornness and unwillingness to Belarusians to host the Russian base is a consequence of the prevailing political situation. Taking into account the actions of the Russian Federation in Ukraine and Syria, the Russian troops began to be perceived in Europe as a source of threat. And this attitude in the case with the air base can automatically spread to Belarus. Because the emergence of the base, in Lukashenko's understanding, is a threat to the emerging thaw in relations between Minsk and the West, which on the background of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine have improved markedly. Belarus failed to act as an intermediary platform for negotiations on Donbass. Against the background of the current accusations against Russia in the armed aggression against Ukraine and annexation of Crimea claims against Lukashenko as "Europe's last dictator" have been put on the backburner. However, it is possible that at the present time there is a banal barganing. And perhaps, base placement will be too costly for Russia. In particular, Lukashenko recently talked a lot about the need for military cooperation with Russia, so it is possible that conditions will be put forward that in exchange for for a base the Belarusian army should be replenished with new and modern Russian arms.
Alexander Perendzhiev, an expert of the Association of Military Political Scientists:
"By hosting the Russian planes, Minsk comes into military opposition with the NATO countries. It is obvious that the Belarusian government wants to distance itself from the confrontation with the alliance. From an operational point of view in the framework of the Union State, it would be right to have a military base in Belarus, in order to counteract the pressure from NATO troops. But we have an imperfect union state, no common army, different commanders. At the same time Alexander Lukashenko, who, of course, remains an ally, wants to demonstrate his independence to the world. It is obvious that Lukashenko is not against Russia, but at the same time does not want to aggravate relations with those states with which there is disagreement in Moscow. You have to understand that Belarus has interests that are often different from the Russian ones."
Some softer option to deploy the Russian airbase in Belarus might be found. As an example, there's the Kyrgyz experience where the leadership initially said it did not want to host the Russian bases. Nevertheless, both countries agreed that all military facilities would be combined into a single base, then military cooperation continued. Perhaps, a certain formula will be worked out in the situation with Belarus. Maybe it will be a sort of the so-called guest base, which was tested in Iran, where Russian strategic bombers were placed on short-time.