Should America Be Worried about Russia's Military Buildup in Belarus?
Russia and Belarus are continuing to discuss arrangements for delivering the S-400 system, but that “it is yet premature to talk about concrete dates."
As tensions between the United States and Russia continue to grow, Moscow is embarking on a massive military buildup in the country of Belarus.
Speaking to Russian media outlets on Wednesday, Belarusian Defense Minister Gen. Lt. Andrey Ravkov said that four Russian-built S-300 air defense systems would be sent to his country by the end of this year, and there were ongoing talks over Russia deploying its most advanced S-400 air defense systems.
"In the framework of creating a joint regional system of missile defense , four divisions and command post of S-300PS missile defense systems will enter service at military units of Air Force’s Anti-Aircraft Missile Troops and Air Defense Troops stationed in the Hrodna, Brest and Vitebsk Regions," Ravkov told TASS media agency.
He went on to say that Russia and Belarus are continuing to discuss arrangements for delivering the S-400 system, but that “it is yet premature to talk about concrete dates."
Ravkov also discussed Russia building an air force base in his country during the interview, stating “The timeframe and place of stationing a Russian aviation base on the territory of Belarus is currently in the political dimension of consideration."
He added: “It is too early to talk about transfer of Su-27 aircraft and Mi-8 helicopters from the Russian Federation. However, our defense ministry is ready to undertake all necessary measures to practically fulfill this."
In March 2014, Russia announced it was deploying 6 Sukhoi-27 fighter jets and three transport planes to Bobruisk airfield near Belarus’ border with Poland. The move came in response to NATO sending 12 F-16s to Poland following the Crimea crisis.
Also last year, Lt. Gen. Viktor Bondarev, the commander-in-chief of Russia’s Air Force, had said that Moscow will establish an air base in Belarus’ Babruysk in 2016. "The Russian Air Forces air base in Belarus will be created in 2016. Su-27 fighter jets will be based there," Bondarev said in October 2014.
In a meeting with Ravkov last December, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia was increasing the number of aircraft it initially will deploy to the new air base when it is complete.
In October, Defense Minister Shoigu promised that Russia would continue expanding its foreign military bases in other neighboring countries as well, stating: “We keep developing our bases abroad: in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Armenia. We are developing them rather actively.”
During the TASS interview on Wednesday, Ravkov attributed Russia’s military buildup in his country to the growing NATO presence along Belarus’ borders. "Along with strengthening the aviation component of NATO member-countries in the Baltics States and Poland that perform the functions of hoarding the airspace, the Alliance is gradually concentrating additional military contingents equipped with heavy weaponry near the Belarusian borders," he said.
Belarus already operates the Russian-built MiG-29 Fulcrums. In 2013, Belarus announced it was again upgrading its MiG-29s, giving them “additional glass cockpit avionics, new radar with ground scanning capability and a sat-nav system, based either on GLONASS or GPS,” according to The Aviationist.
The Belarus Air Force also operates the Soviet-era Sukhoi Su-25.
Zachary Keck is a former managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.
This article originally appeared in June 2015.
Image: Wikimedia Commons / Igor Rudenko