Can Belarusians participate in NATO exercises?

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Colonel Leanid Spatkai in an interview with Dzmitry Mitsevich has commented on the large CSTO exercises “Battle Brotherhood”, the Belarusian stage of which began on October 14, and analyzed the reaction of Alyaksandr Lukashenka to the international “Defender” maneuvers under the U.S. command scheduled for spring 2020 in neighboring countries.

Exercises “Battle Brotherhood” with the participation of the Belarusian military have begun. In total, more than 10,000 people are involved. What will be practiced and what is the main scenario?

These exercises are multidimensional, because 4 training ranges and 4 scenarios are involved. First, the Mulino training ground in Russia. They are already testing the logistics force there. There are 3 testing grounds in Belarus: Chepeleusky, Damanausky, Abuz-Lesnousky. According to the scenario, there will be stationed intelligence forces “Search-2019”. Then the special operations forces of the CSTO countries will be in Mulino. Also in Tajikistan, the same special operations forces will conduct the second phase of the exercise. This is what is generally known about these exercises. We are more interested in Belarus. Moreover, since October 7, the Belarusian armed forces have also been conducting exercises which caused a stir in the Ukrainian media, as there is a concentration of Belarusian military equipment near the Ukrainian border. They are not included in the general plan of the “Battle Brotherhood 2019” exercises of the CSTO countries, but they are in harmony with this. It also involves a transfer of the Belarusian armed forces by different means: by air and ground. The air transfer involves both a landing method, on the landing site, and using a parachute. It involves using a parachute under various conditions: during the day, at night, in good and bad weather.

To what extent should our public be interested in the presence of Russian troops on our territory, and to what extent should our public be concerned about this? How justified is the high degree of tension in foreign media in connection with this?

We remember very well when there was a similar case several years ago involving 10 thousand railway cars. They said that the Russian military has moved in, and is probably still hiding in the forests and swamps of Palessie. Therefore, first of all, the Ministry of Defense should give objective and complete information in advance, so that people do not get various gossip and so on. Of course, society is concerned about the purpose of the troops’ presence, if they are going to return, how many are they, with what weapons and so on. Therefore, in order to avoid any rumors, gossip, there should be, first of all, objective information both for the Belarusian society and for the nearest neighbors: Poland and Ukraine. This is a measure of trust.

With this in mind, the statement of Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his concern about the exercises of our Western neighbors with the participation of U.S. troops, which will be the largest in 25 years, is of certain interest. How much should we be concerned about this?

I would not say that they are the largest in 25 years. This is the largest transfer of U.S. troops from U.S. soil to European soil in the last 25 post-war years. Undoubtedly, it is impossible to compare the number of soldiers who were involved during the Western maneuvers in different years and the number that is planned for next spring in Poland and some NATO member states, given that the total contingent is about 37 thousand people. Currently, 900 people participate in the drill in the territory of Belarus, including 400 servicemen of Belarus. The scale is very different. Of course, there is concern of the Belaursian leadership, but unlike us, they have information about the number of military personnel and their routes for more than six months in advance. Germany will be a transit hub, and then they will move to Poland. Undoubtedly, spectators will be invited to these exercises, including from Belarus, to see with their own eyes how our neighbors hone their military skills.

Let’s talk again about the exercises. Can all the tension in the region be used by Lukashenka as a card in the game with Moscow? We protect you, we are your closest allies — all this rhetoric, which we have been hearing for quite a long time.

On the other hand, he expressed the opinion that he is not against Belarus taking part in some joint exercises with NATO. We also have something to learn from them. Now, when the country’s leadership, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, has repeatedly stated that Belarus should not be on the verge of confrontation between Russia and Western Europe. In fact, there is such a situation. And of course, in such a situation, Belarus should make some choice: for example, to be a neutral state, but today Belarus is a member of the CSTO. Therefore, whether you want it or not, if you pledge, don’t hedge. The same is true if you are a member of the CSTO, then you should observe the conditions of your stay in this organization, including taking part in various exercises and maneuvers.

If we imagine that Belarus has a desire to participate in the NATO exercises, what reaction can come from Russia?

As long as Belarus is a member of the CSTO, it is basically impossible, because the membership of the CSTO imposes certain restrictions on Belarus, including participation in exercises with another bloc, which is opposed to the CSTO — the NATO. Some joint exercises with the wrong bloc of countries, for example, with Ukraine, are possible. Belarus, as a member country of the CSTO, participating in a drill with a country that is not a member of any military-political organization is also possible. As for joint exercises with Poland or Lithuania, it is currently out of the question. Of course, there can be some joint activities in terms of interaction of border services. This is a fact and it is happening. I do not rule out that Belarusians may be invited to take part in the exercises, some battalion or company, but this invitation will not be accepted.

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