Belarus becoming a 'western military district' of Russia

Security briefing to EU policymakers warns of growing threat to Baltic countries

Russian and Belarusian tanks during the joint exercises known as Union Courage 2022 that preceded the invasion of Ukraine. EPA

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Belarus is turning into a “military district” of Russia and is thereby an “active enabler” of the invasion of Ukraine, European policymakers were told after the Moscow-friendly regime was sanctioned for its role in the war.

A briefing by the EU’s in-house security analysts said the Belarusian regime’s reliance on Moscow since it was weakened by mass protests beginning in 2020 had led to it being more easily bent to Russia’s will.

Russia has used that opportunity to push for deeper military integration between the two countries, the briefing said, culminating in troop movements to Belarus that led to some of Russia's attacks on Ukraine being launched from the country.

Meanwhile, changes to the Belarus constitution that dropped its formal neutrality and opened the door to hosting Russian nuclear weapons were pushed through in a referendum last month described as a sham by the EU.

The deepening of military co-operation between Russia and its former Soviet neighbour “is unlikely to be reversed”, wrote analyst Andras Racz in a paper published by the EU’s Institute of Security Studies.

“Instead, Belarus is apparently on the way to becoming a de facto extension of Russia’s western military istrict,” he said.

“The official removal of neutrality from the new constitution of Belarus is only rubberstamping a reality that Belarus has been rapidly heading towards since 2020, and that has now materialised violently and dramatically following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

Belarus has been brought under the sanctions umbrella by the EU, Britain and the US for what they describe as its enabling of the Russian onslaught on Ukraine.

The sanctions targeted top Belarusian military officials and state-owned enterprises linked to the armed forces, as well as cutting it out of the Swift payments system in a move mirroring one against Russian banks.

In the prelude to the invasion, Russia sent tens of thousands of troops and large supplies of weaponry to Belarus for the so-called Union Resolve 2022 drills.

Equipment moved into Belarus included S-400 air defence systems, dozens of T-72B3 tanks, BM-27 Uragan multiple-launch rocket systems, engineering vehicles and other heavy hardware, the EU agency’s report said.

The bloc’s foreign policy chief said on Tuesday that several applicant and non-EU countries, including Norway, Iceland, Albania and Montenegro, had promised to align themselves with the sanctions on Belarus over Ukraine.

President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime in Minsk was already under sanctions over the disputed election in 2020, a subsequent crackdown on dissent and the alleged orchestration of a migration crisis on the border with Poland last year.

The briefing to EU policymakers said Belarus’s place in the Russian camp raised security questions for other countries in the region, such as the Baltic states and Poland, whose safety from a Russian attack is a concern for Nato countries.

Russia could station Iskander ballistic missiles in Belarus and use its forces in the country to expand its intelligence capabilities, Mr Racz said, or close the airspace of parts of Poland and Lithuania with air defence missiles.

It is also “highly likely that Russia will deploy significant signal intelligence and electronic warfare capabilities to Belarus”, the briefing said.

Another possibility is a full-blown Russian base in Belarus, adding to a naval transmission station and long-range radar station, which were inherited from Soviet times and which Russia is thought to operate free of charge.

Mr Lukashenko previously resisted this idea but his defence ministry said last month that Russian troops would be stationed in Belarus until there was an “objective need” for them to return.

Updated: March 16, 2022, 2:17 PM
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