Military base issue: Belarus as hostage in NATO-Russia standoff

About 700 diplomats and experts in the field of foreign policy and security have recently discussed the issues of Brexit, NATO prospects and Russia’s influence in Eastern Europe at the conference in Riga. However, in the face of the strengthening of the NATO eastern flank, many participants are taking the Belarusian issue into account.

Having expressed its outrage over the news about the feasibility of deploying a US military base in Poland, Russia is getting ready to respond.

“In the context of such development of emerging a threat to Russia and Belarus, one or another plan will definitely be involved. And we should not rule out that a base will be placed in Belarus on the basis of an agreement signed by the presidents of the two countries,” Andrey Koshkin, a representative of the Association of Military Political Scientists (Moscow), said.

Three years ago Alyaksandr Lukashenka withdrew from the almost-ready agreement on the establishment of a Russian air base near Baranavichy. According to Russian experts, Moscow did not need it at that moment. However, the Kremlin’s current policy line does not allow to leave the fact of strengthening of NATO’s eastern border unanswered.

“The threat of war is really growing. At least, guiding documents say so. And it is growing even more rapidly than they thought. They predicted the growth in the 20s-30s, but as a result of Crimean and other events, it may happen earlier,” Pavel Felgenhauer, a military columnist at Novaya Gazeta, stressed.

Most participants of the conference had no doubt that if the Kremlin wants the Russian troops will be in Belarus on the same day. It is still unknown when and whether the so-called Trump fort will appear in Poland. But Moscow is already on its toes.

“During the Zapad-2017 exercises, they trained logistics activities in Belarus so that Russian troops could stay there permanently, i.e. Russians are far ahead of yet possible US actions,” former Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz stressed.

The Baltic countries are full of concern over the Belarusian nuclear power plant in Astravets. Lithuanian officials and experts keep raising the issue at every given opportunity. The military security question are also on the table.

“We know that Belarusian and Russian armed forces are integrated, but the appearance of a military base in Belarus would be further proof that it is impossible to talk about any independent defense policy of Belarus. And everybody realizes that no matter what happens in our region, Belarus will respond taking into account Russia’s stand,” Linas Kojala, Director of the Center for European Studies, said.

How should one counter it? It seems that the experts in Riga see no point in talks in Minsk. It is all about the Kremlin.

“We see that Russia just does not want to comply with international standards. And all European countries start to realize that the case is the aggressor which will yield only under power pressure,” Macierewicz said.

While the West and Russia are flexing muscles, the Belarusian authorities will continue to cling to a relatively neutral position, experts say. However, Lukashenka’s room for multi-vector manoeuvre is growing narrow.