On June 5, 2013, after a meeting of the CIS Council of Defense Ministers the head of the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed his statement (which was made in April 2013) about the deployment of a Russian air troops in Belarus. But one clarification was made: Russian aircraft will be based on the joint Belarusian-Russian airbase.
We have already dedicated a special article to the issue of Russian military presence in Belarus. Currently, however, we need to make some corrections there.
It is obvious that the military base in Belarus will perform two functions for Russia: external and internal ones. The internal one is about “marking” of the territory, claiming Russian presence there and the readiness for increasing the capacities. The new military base should confirm the status of Russia as a regional power. It is meaningless to discuss its military value, since the Western just like the Arctic poses the smallest threat to Russia’s security. The conflict with the NATO countries now can only take place in the political and diplomatic area, but not in the military one.
Internal function of the base for Russia is to create a kind of success story of the Kremlin integration initiatives. However, if in April we pointed out that this was done according to the interest of Vladimir Putin, at the moment there is reason to believe that the main beneficiary is Sergei Shoigu as a future successor of Putin. It is likely that early presidential elections could be held in Russia before 2018. Maybe it will happen after the signing of the agreement on the establishment of the Eurasian Union. In this case, a successful and strong leader, who was able to “consolidate” (in fact, to “buy” the illusion of consolidation) a part of the former Soviet Union around Russia, will be replaced by another equally strong and successful leader — Sergei Shoigu, who will be able to appear as an effective military leader as well (possibly having marshal epaulets on his shoulders by that time).
For Belarusian authorities the establishment of a Russian air base is connected with the need to ensure the continued financial support from Russia until 2015. Putting it simply, Minsk involves Kremlin into the upcoming presidential elections on the side of President Lukashenko. The hopes of Belarusian authorities are very simple and straightforward: money, oil, weapons. In such situation the involvement of Russia in the internal political affairs of Belarus and the probability of appearance of some candidate from top bureaucracy, supported by Moscow, significantly reduces. At the same time the possibility of reliable contacts between Russia and Belarusian opposition, which consolidated opposes the Russian military presence in Belarus, is reduced as well. In addition, the financial support of Moscow will mean the actual removal of the issue of the privatization of state property from the agenda.
However, the benefits, mentioned above, are just theoretical. It is questionable, whether they will become real. Russia, like other countries of the CIS, is not very scrupulous in following their obligations. Just recall the promises of financial support and investment in the economy of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, as well as ambitious plans for upgrading their armies. However, in this case, Moscow will have to make payments, at least agreed with Minsk, otherwise the scandal with the failure to follow the obligations will completely discredit the idea of collective security in post-Soviet countries.
The point of interest here is the format of the base operation — a joint military base. This may even be the placement of Russian forces on one of the Belarusian air bases. But there is the possibility of using one of the airfields, which are currently not in use, for dislocation of joint air group consisting of one model of aircraft. It may be “Su-30”. 18 such aircraft units, having served in the Indian Air Force, are situated in Baranavichi and can be transferred to Belarusian Air Force. They can be accompanied by some Russian “Su” aircraft. But the technical state of the Indian aircraft is questionable: the fact that by this moment no potential buyers have been found for them is quite conspicuous.
Establishment of a Russian military base as well as guaranteed, and maybe even enhanced support for Belarus from the Kremlin, would mean the preservation of the current economic and political situation in the country. In addition, the issue of the functioning of Russian military facility in Belarus could become a problem point of bilateral relations in the future.