Russia Plans Belarus Air Base To Protect Against 'Potential' NATO Strikes
Russia is to acquire an air base in Belarus. The commander-in-chief of the RF Armed Forces Army General Vladimir Mikhailov made a statement to this effect on Wednesday during an inspection of the Russian air base in Kanta (Kyrgystan). At the same time he reported that during 2006 this base would grow by 250% both in terms of personnel and in terms of equipment. What we are witnessing is a strengthening of air groupings outside Russia.

The air base in Belarus is the first threatening sortie in the direction of Western Europe for many years. Only a few days ago the RF defense minister Sergey Ivanov spoke about relations of partnership with NATO and about mutual trust, yet in practice what is happening is the creation of a new Russian military grouping directed against the alliance.

In response to the question of whether or not a Russian air base may be deployed in Belarus, the commander of the RF air force from 1991 through 1994 Colonel General Petr Deynekin replied that "it has long been time to utilize the aerodromes of the former republics of the Soviet Union in order to improve the air support of Russian air regiments. There are several dozen aerodromes that may be used for the deployment of such bases. But it is in the former Union republics - in the Baltic, the Ukraine and Belarus - that we have created a modern military aviation infrastructure.

The colonel-general, who once held responsible posts in the air force general staff, noted that he is often in Belarus and has a good idea of the current state of the aerodrome network. For example, it would be quite possible to locate an air base of this kind in the region of the town of Baranovichi. "There is a good aerodrome there and also Aviation Repair Plant No. 558". A further large aerodrome is located near the town of Lida.

In Soviet times Mochulishchi was the base for an fighter squadron and Tu-22 strategic bombers. But a Russian air base is unlikely to be deployed here because of its proximity to Minsk. At the present time the aerodromes in Orsha and Bobruisk are not battle worthy. "If we proceed on the basis of geographical and military position when deciding on the deployment of a future Russian air base", the Colonel-General noted in the discussion, "the Baranovichi aerodrome is the most preferable. In addition to a good repair base there is also a significant Belarus air defense (PVO) grouping. Russian combat aviation would have good cover against potential NATO air strikes by groupings stationed in the Baltic States and Poland". Furthermore, the air base in Baranovich is located close to the magnificent Polesskiy training ground, where it is possible to practice aviation combat training tasks. In the same way, this possible base in Baranovichi would
provide reliable cover for the long-range missile attack early warning station (SNRH) - part of the Russian system - that is situated at a distance of approximately 60km.

At the present time Moscow has military bases deployed in three strategic areas. In Central Asia there is Kant and Dushanbe. In the South there are bases in Georgia, Armenia and Sevastopol in the Crimea. And in the West, essentially, there have only been the two radar stations in Belarus. In the Soviet period the strongest troop formations were stationed in this area, because they face the main mass of NATO. Now, Russia has once again begun to increase its military strength on this traditionally threatened boundary. After Poland and the Baltic States joined NATO, the buffer zone that had previously separated Russia and the North Atlantic alliance disappeared. Former Soviet aerodromes are now home to the planes of Western European armies and American radar stations. Poland has proposed that the United States should create a missile defense base on its territory, and talks have already been held on the re-deployment of four American bases from Germany to Polish territory. And although the time frame for the re-deployment and the actual sites have not yet been finalized, Russia is already taking reciprocal steps.

First and foremost the joint PVO system is being strengthened. Four battalions of S-300 anti-aircraft missile launchers are being transferred from Russia to Belarus. The transfer process began back in the middle of January and was carried out with great efficiency - by air. Belarus already has two S-300 brigades and several battalions of S-200 anti-aircraft missile launchers. With Russian help it can now provide air strike cover for the entire western area and will be able to protect its own aviation against unexpected air attack.

Russian-Belarus PVO exercises are held twice a year, and in recent years they have also included strategic aviation. Each time Russian pilots make landings at aerodromes near Baranovichi and in Mochulishchi, where they get fuel and pre-flight service. In Soviet times Mochulishchi was a reserve aerodrome for strategic aviation, but Tu-22, Tu-95 and Tu-160 bombers have now landed there during exercises. Commander-in-chief Vladimir Mikhaylov's words about the duty roster at the air base may mean that not only fighter planes may be on duty in Baranovichi or in Mochulishchi but also "strategic bombers" with cruise missiles on board.

The Soviet Union used to push its front lines away from its own borders and closer to a potential opponent. Russia is taking the same approach, but since no allies remain in the former socialist camp it is deploying its own bases on the post-Soviet space.