Russia already has two military facilities in Belarus – a radar site near Baranovichi and a naval communications center near Mensk – but Vladimir Putin is pressing for a major airbase there in what would represent a serious threat to European security, according to “Novaya gazeta” journalist Irina Khalip.
She points out that a new base in Belarus would bring to four those “on the perimeter of the Russian border.” (The others are in Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and occupied Crimea.) But unlike the other three, the Belarusian one would directly affect the security interests of Europe.
Khalip reviews the history of discussions about such a base going back to 2009, discussions that she says were broken off after the war in Ukraine began. Then, in October 2014, Moscow announced that the plans for a base had not been cancelled but simply delayed, the prelude to Putin’s September 19 decree calling for an agreement between Moscow and Mensk.
That war also prompted Lukashenka to seek better ties with the West, especially as Moscow appears to have run out of money to finance his regime. But Putin’s order upended the Belarusian leader’s efforts in that regard: It is one thing to deal with a dictator who doesn’t threaten Europe; it is another to deal with “an ally of Russia with a military base on its territory.”
As the “Novaya gazeta” journalist points out, for many years, “Poland and Bulgaria and Romania and the Baltic countries called for NATO to put military bases on their territories,” but “only the war in Ukraine prompted the countries of the alliance to action in the countries of Eastern Europe.”
That means that “the opening of a Russian military base in Belarus” would be an indication that Putin “with the help of Alyaksandr Lukashenka” has begun a new phase in a new arms race because–unlike the two other Russian military facilities in Belarus now–Russian forces would be at the new one.
This too would “again change the military and geopolitical map of the world,” she concludes, something that could lead to a further escalation of tensions and possibly to new demands for some kind of “grand bargain” between Russia and the West, either of which might suit Putin’s interests if not those of the West.