A dozen advanced Russian Su-35S jet fighters are being deployed to Belarus ahead of large-scale joint drills.
"Multirole Su-35S fighter jets from the Eastern Military District, dispatched for an inspection of the Union State’s response forces, have completed their deployment at airfields in Belarus," read a statement issued by Russia’s Defense Ministry on Thursday. The statement added that the Su-35 fighters took off from an airfield in the Khabarovsk region and covered a distance of about 8,000 kilometers. “After familiarizing themselves with the flight routes in the airspace over the territory of the Republic of Belarus, the crews of Su-35S multifunctional fighters will take up combat duty on air defence as part of checking the functioning of the unified air defence system of the Union State,” the Defense Ministry statement added.
Introduced in 2014, the Sukhoi Su-35S is one of Russia’s most advanced mass-produced fighters and is arguably the country’s best performing non-stealth air superiority aircraft. Su-35 fighters flew air combat patrols and provided support for Russian bombers during strike missions over the course of Russia’s intervention in the Syrian Civil War. There are around 115 serially produced Su-35 models currently serving in Russia’s air force. Two dozen more Su-35s were procured by China in the mid-2010s, and Egypt signed a contract for another two dozen of the fighters in 2019.
It was reported by Russian state media earlier in January that two S-400 missile defense system battalions and twelve Su-35 fighters would be transferred from Russia to Belarus in anticipation of the “Union Resolve 2022” joint drills between the two countries. The drills, which will be held in February, will reportedly focus “on repelling external aggression, countering terrorism and protecting the interests of the Union State.” The Union State refers to a national integration framework introduced in a 1999 treaty between Russia and Belarus. The exercises will be held in training grounds and airfields spread across Belarus and will involve search and destroy missions against “outlawed armed gangs and enemy subversive and reconnaissance groups,” according to Russia’s Defense Ministry.
The Union Resolve 2022 exercises come amid spiraling tensions between Russia and NATO, with Western governments and intelligence sources warning that the Russian forces massing along Ukraine’s border are poised to strike at any moment. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said earlier in January that the joint drills are a response to what he described as the continued buildup of Ukrainian and NATO forces in the region. "These should be normal exercises to work out a certain plan for confronting these forces: the West, the Baltics and Poland, and the south—Ukraine," Lukashenko claimed.
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest.