As the United States and NATO begin to deploy more combat aircraft to Poland—including an undisclosed number of U.S. Air Force F-15 Eagle fighters—Russia may be responding by permanently stationing its most advanced air defense system near the Belarusian capital.
Last month, Russia deployed two S-400 "Triumf" missile systems to Belarus, its Eastern European ally, for use in joint Russian-Belarusian Union Resolve combat training exercises. Although the joint drills are expected to conclude on Sunday, it now seems that the advanced surface-to-air missile (SAM) platforms could remain long after the last soldier returns home.
On Thursday, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko announced the possibility of deploying more Russian S-400 systems near Minsk.
"We may deploy them somewhere east of Minsk or near Minsk and we will keep an eye on what is going on in Kiev, beyond Warsaw and so on," Lukashenko told journalists following his visit to the Osipovichi training ground, the BelTA news agency reported.
Belarus Training With the Triumf
According to TASS, the Belarusian head of state also confirmed that there are already S-400 systems in the republic, which are being "mastered by the Belarusian servicemen" at the training center.
"If necessary, we will deploy a couple more systems, although we don't need more," Lukashenko added. "We are talking about purchasing several of these systems."
The Belarusian leader suggested that the previous S-300 systems were more than sufficient for the country's defense. But it seems that Moscow could push its ally to permanently station the advanced S-400 closer to Poland and within range of multiple other NATO countries.
A More Advanced Air-Defense Platform
The Russia-built S-400 Triumf is the latest long-and-medium-range surface-to-air missile system and is designed to destroy aircraft, cruise, and ballistic missiles, and can also be used against ground installations. The S-400, which can also launch 40N6 missiles, was developed to engage targets at a distance of up to 400 kilometers at up to six times the speed of sound, and at an altitude of up to thirty kilometers. It entered service with the Russian military in 2007.
The S-400 has also been seen as a significant improvement over its S-300 predecessor on several performance fronts. Whereas the S-300 was explicitly designed as a long-range air defense system, the S-400 is currently compatible with four missiles that are meant to satisfy a wide spectrum of operational categories: extremely long-range 40N6E (400 kilometers), long-range 48N6 (250 kilometers), medium-range 9M96e2 (120 kilometers), and short-range 9m96e (40 kilometers).
The S-400 has also been widely exported, much to the detriment of the United States and NATO. The United States has even imposed economic sanctions on countries, such as Turkey, simply for buying the system, but many of the world's powers have continued to express interest in it. The use of the S-400 as an economic warfare tool should not be underestimated as the platform is an example of Russian hybrid warfare against the United States and NATO.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.