«West-2021» will be held against a complex political background

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The Belarusian-Russian «West-2021» military exercises cannot be considered outside the confrontation of the Belarusian regime with the West and the likely political calendar in Belarus.

On July 21st 2021, Russian units began arriving in Belarus in preparation for the «West 2021» military exercises between the two countries scheduled for September 10-16th. This is slightly earlier than usual as Russian servicemen arrived in the month prior in previous years. Belarusian sources are being uncharacteristically opaque about the nature and composition of the Russian units and the scale and scenario of the exercise. A corresponding briefing will probably take place in the second half of August.

This early troop transfer can be interpreted as an indication of the scale of the upcoming exercise and an attempt to exert psychological pressure on neighbouring states reacting extremely nervously to Russian military activity near their borders. The Belarusian regime’s recent actions, which have led to allegations of «hybrid war» via illegal migration, and statements by Minsk alluding to the possibility of armed conflict with European countries as a consequence of the EU’s alleged attempts to provoke a third world war further complicate the picture.

It may not be coincidental that the West-2021 exercises may coincide with a referendum on constitutional reform; the presence of Russian troops may then be of use to the Belarusian regime as a deterrent to mass protests.

The tense political backdrop and lack of clarity about the specific intent of the «West-2021» are causing neighbouring countries to take countermeasures of a military nature. Further escalation of rhetoric both from the West and from the Belarusian regime should be expected. It is unlikely that the migration crisis will be resolved by a change of heart in Minsk; indeed, the severity of the problem (at least at the level of political rhetoric) can be expected to increase. Russian troops in Belarus then risk being held hostage to the domestic and foreign policy of the Belarusian regime.

Belarus in focus