The US Anti-Missile Defence Strengthens Lukashenka's Position

On the eve of the recent visit of Vladimir Putin to Belarus, at least three important points of vulnerability of Russia's and Putin's position in relations with Belarus were revealed. First, the importance of a Belarusian foothold for Russia increases in light of the deployment of the US anti-missile defence sites on the territory of the eastern member states of NATO.

Second, for quite a long period of time, Ukraine will be the priority direction of Russia's foreign policy activities. Third, the Kremlin places primary responsibility for the failure of plans to speed up the creation of the Eurasian Union on the leaders of Kazakhstan; a certain cooling in relations between Russia and Kazakhstan is another reason for Moscow not to revive sensitive issues in its relations with Belarus.

Conflicts on the Issue of Anti-missile Defence

During his election campaign, Putin used to say that one of the major point of disagreement in relations with the West and the USA was the deployment of anti-missile defence sites throughout the territory of eastern member states of NATO.

On May 3 and 4, the international conference "The anti-missile defence factor in the formation of a new security space", organised by the Ministry of Defence of Russia, was held in Moscow. High-ranking military men from Belarus attended the conference together with representatives of fifty states (including twenty-eight member states of NATO).

Official representatives of Russia – former President Dmitry Medvedev, Secretary of the Security Council Nikolay Patrushev, Minister of Defense Anatoliy Serdyukov and Chief of General Staff Nikolay Makarov – voiced their view that the deployment of the anti-missile defence inevitably entailed retaliatory measures and created conditions for confrontation and a costly arms race.

already by 2020 the European line of the American anti-missile defence system would be able to intercept Russian missiles

In particular, Patrushev said that already by 2020 the European line of the American anti-missile defence system would be able to intercept Russian missiles. According to General Makarov, the US military continues to rapidly improve the information processing capabilities and firepower of the system – they are increasing their range and the speed of interceptor missiles and improving their point accuracy. At the same time, the deployment sites are getting closer to Russia's borders.

A few days before the conference, some high-ranking military men pointed out that their Belarusian foothold would play an important role among their retaliatory measures.

The anti-aircraft missile system "S-400" , which is capable of intercepting the US interceptor missiles, could be deployed to Belarus.

It was also pointed out that Belarus was the best place to deploy the short-range "Iskander" missiles, designed to hit the anti-missile sites located in Poland.

Earlier, such declarations about the possibility of deployment of "Iskander" missiles over the Bug River were accompanied by claims of other high-ranking Russian military officials in mass media that Lukashenka was an inconsistent ally. This was why Russia would not transfer sophisticated offensive weapons, including the tactical "Iskander" missle system to Belarus.

In Moscow, they speak almost unanimously about the possibility of the deployment of an export-version of the tactical "Iskander-E" missile system in Belarus

However, now in Moscow, they speak almost unanimously about the possibility of the deployment of the export-version of the tactical "Iskander-E" missile system in Belarus. In comparison with the systems "Iskander-M", with which Russian units are equipped, these systems have a two-times smaller range – about 200 km. However, it would be sufficient to threaten the anti-missile defence sites deployed in Poland.

Finally, a network of military airfields, which are capable to receive the Russian long-range bombers "Tu-22M3", is still exists in Belarus from the Soviet era. Their deployment in Belarus increases the efficiency of these bombers against the anti-missile defence sites, including against US Navy ships used for anti-missile defence.

The Ukraine Factor

Lukashenka's team also has reasons to believe that the main foreign policy issue for Putin's administration in 2012 will be Russia's relations with Ukraine. Russia will endeavour to prevent or, at least, complicate to the maximum possible extent Ukraine's movement (while quite a lengthy one) into the EU.

In April – May, Lukashenka's advisors had probably conveyed to him that ways of putting pressure on Ukraine were being discussed in Russia. In particular, the expert community discusses the figure of 20 billion dollars – this is the net worth which Ukraine estimates the value of its gas transportation system to be.

it is only the first round of arm-twisting towards Ukraine, who has turned out to be defiant and unappeasable even under Yanukovych, much to the indignation of the Kremlin

Ways to force Ukraine into significantly reducing this price are currently under discussion. And it is only the first round of arm-twisting towards Ukraine, who has turned out to be defiant and unappeasable even under Yanukovich, much to the indignation of the Kremlin.

Cooling of relations between Russia and Kazakhstan

May 25 marks the anniversary of signing of the treaty on friendship and cooperation between Russia and Kazakhstan. On the eve of Putin's inauguration, it was widely believed among Russian politicians and in expert community that Putin would make his first official visit to Kazakhstan.

However, it was announced on the eve of Putin's inauguration, which took place on May 7, that Putin would make his first official visit to Belarus on May 31. Even if Putin visits Kazakhstan on May 25, this visit would be informal, i.e. held in lower regard.

The bottom-line is that in order to create and sustain the threat of use of a Belarusian foothold, including against the anti-missile defence sites, Russia will not revive sensitive issues in its relations with Lukashenka's regime.

Andrei Liakhovich directs the Center of Political Education in Minsk.

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