On Friday, the joint strategic drills Zapad-2021 have kicked off. Up to 200,000 military personnel are taking part in the wargame which is to last until September, 16. However, only 12,800 servicemen are to be involved in it on the territory of Belarus, 2,500 of them are Russian soldiers, up to 50 are from Kazakhstan.
The armies of the two countries have been holding joint military exercises in Russia and Belarus since 2009. Large-scale military operations take place every two years. In Russia, these maneuvers are called Soyuz (Union), in Belarus – Zapad (West).
On August 28, in the run-up to Zapad-2021, a unit of antiaircraft missile forces of the Russian Federation arrived in Hrodna. Notably, these troops are expected to remain in Belarus even after the end of the drills. According to the Belarusian Defence Ministry, Russian soldiers and equipment are to be engaged in forming a training and combat centre for joint training of the Air Force and the air defence forces of Belarus and Russia.
Moreover, Russian Sukhoi Su-30 fighter planes came down at the airfield in the town of Baranavichy on September, 3. They will reportedly stay behind in Belarus as well.
“The airmen will be on a joint combat duty as part of the protection of the air borders of the Union State (Belarus and Russia),” the ministry said.
The decision to establish joint training centres of Belarusian and Russian Armed Forces was taken during the talks of the heads of defence ministries of Belarus and Russia on March 5 in Moscow.
Then the ministry announced that three training centres would be established (one in Belarus and two in Russia). The centre deployed in Belarus is reported to focus on training fighter pilots and maintaining air defence systems.
“At the premises of this [Belarusian] centre, the Su-30SM crews will be trained; Belarusian specialists will be got up to speed on the operation of missile systems with which the armed forces of Russia are equipped; joint performance of combat tasks will be conducted,” the ministry said.
According to a Belarusian military analyst who asked Belsat.eu not to reveal his true identity, it is not ruled out that the above mentioned developments might lead to the establishment of two Russian military bases in Belarus.
“The legal status of these combat training centres is yet unclear. But in fact, it is an expansion of the Russian military presence on our territory, because it is not some academy there, but real combat units. In addition, politicians have stated that Russian fighters will be guarding our border as well. But it is still unknown whom they will report to; ditto for the air defence unit, the troops of which have come to Hrodna” our interviewee warns.