Staunton, November 25 – In the clearest indication yet that Moscow plans to build up its forces in Belarus during the next year, forces that could be used against Ukraine or against the Baltic countries, the Russian defense ministry has called for bids on supplying rail transit from Russia to Belarus at an “unprecedented” level.
Indeed, Andrey Santarovich, an analyst for Kyiv’s Apostrophe portal, says, the amounts of armament Moscow wants to send into Belarus (and also into the Transdniestria region) suggest that the Russia authorities are laying the groundwork for “a second Ukrainian front” (apostrophe.ua/article/world/ex-ussr/2016-11-24/vtoroy-ukrainskiy-front-zachem-putin-perebrasyivaet-voyska-v-belarus/8492).
Moreover, he says, the size of the forces that the amount of arms the Russian defense ministry plans to send into Belarus alone would be more than sufficient to give Moscow “complete military-political control over Minsk,” despite the latter’s effort to “conduct a ‘multi-vector’ policy in the Ukrainian-Russian conflict.”
Santarovich provides several detailed tables outlining exactly what equipment Moscow plans to move and how many echelons it believes it will need to do that in a rapid way. The equipment itself makes a clear statement about just what Moscow is planning, although it must be said that the Russian authorities could change their minds before anything is moved.
He spoke with two Belarusian analysts and one Belarusian politician to get their reactions to these numbers and their sense of what they mean. Denis Melyantsov, an analyst at the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Research, suggested that it could be that this was all about expanding Russian-Belarusian military exercises.
But his colleague Arseniy Sivitsky said that the amount of armor the Russian defense ministry plans to move is far larger than could conceivably be required. “If such an amount is not at accidental mistake, then one can speak about indirect evidence that the Kremlin in 2017 intends to develop its military group on Belarusian territory in a strategic way.”
On the one hand, this could allow Moscow to impose full control over Minsk. On the other, it could make it possible for Russia to use Belarus as a buffer in the event of a major east-west conflict or to exploit it as a place des armes for aggression against Ukraine or the Baltic countries.
And Vitaly Rymashevsky, the co-chairman of the Belarusian Christian Democratic Party, suggested that this may all be about Moscow’s insistence on opening its own airbase on the territory of Belarus, a demand that the Russian side has been making without complete success for the last year or more.