The Russian “privatisation” of the bilateral Belarusian-Russian military exercises is more than just a symbolic loss for the Belarusian regime.
On August 20th, the deputy head of the Russian Main Directorate for International Military Cooperation announced that military contingents from Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Serbia and Sri Lanka have been invited to participate in the [Zapad | West]-2021 exercises, which will be held in Russia. In addition, the armed forces of China, Vietnam, Myanmar, Pakistan and Uzbekistan will be represented by military observers. The exercises will address the issues arising from managing coalition troops during the restoration of state territorial integrity. The concept of the exercise does not imply any particular opponent.
In total, about 200k servicemen will take part in the exercises across Belarus and Russia, of which approximately 12,800 will be on Belarusian territory.
- “[Zapad | West]-2021 ” is turning from a landmark bilateral event in the history of Belarusian-Russian relations into a multinational event, in which Belarus is only one of a dozen participants, albeit the second most important;
- contrary to the bellicose statements of the Belarusian regime about the aggressive aspirations of the “collective West” and the second year of Russian style anti-NATO propaganda, the Kremlin, by denying that the exercises are aimed at specific countries, is pointedly declining to sit “in the same trench” as Lukashenka;
- judging by the distribution of the involved forces, about 94% of events within the framework of “West-2021” will take place on Russian territory, which makes the Belarusian stage not the main one, but an additional one;
- Russia demonstrates (at least in the public field) greater transparency in comparison with Belarus, which makes it difficult for the Belarusian regime to manipulate the event for its political purposes on the western track;
- Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Serbia are traditionally close political partners of Minsk, while only a small Kazakh contingent will participate in events on the territory of Belarus.
Of interest is also the question of whether a meeting between Lukashenka and Putin is planned during the “West-2021”: in 2017, there was no such meeting, although before that it was considered traditional.
Moscow’s actions are aimed at depriving the Belarusian-Russian relations in the field of military security of the exclusive status. Minsk is sinking to the level of one of Russia’s peripheral partners in this area, the importance of which is determined by the specific situation in the region. This knocks out from the Belarusian regime the historically most effective and, in fact, the last instrument of influencing the Kremlin on issues that are not directly related to security issues. At the same time, nullifying the value of Minsk as a potential partner capable of influencing Russian foreign policy due to the special nature of bilateral relations.