By Bijan Razzaghi
Russia currently has many military bases abroad including Armenia, Belarus, South Ossetia Georgia, Syria, Vietnam, Crimea Ukraine, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Moldova. These bases are designed to expand Russia’s military capabilities beyond its borders as it has done in Syria the past two years. Belarus in particular has been of strategic importance to Russia since the end of the cold war. Belarus is part of the EEU (Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. This forms a military alliance between both countries and forms a Union State. Russia currently has a radar station in Hantsavichy, an airbase in Baranovichi and both countries participate in military training exercises together. Despite these ties Belarus was recently seeking to drive closer to the EU as they lifted sanctions in 2016. This during a time where Russia is trying to replace its lost capability in Ukraine with a broader military capability in Belarus. When Russia attempted to open a new air base in Belarus locals protested the Russian incentive. Despite these tensions it is very likely in the future that Russia will use its bilateral trade agreements with Belarus to expand its regional influence by having a larger military presence in Belarus. If this takes place there will be a number of strategic implications involved, as Russian influence gets closer to NATOs Baltic States.
Geographically Belarus is situated to the east of NATO countries Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. All of which were part of the Warsaw pact in the cold war. These countries already weary of Russian influence are even more threatened by the potential of more Russian forces in Belarus. If Russia were to put ground forces in Belarus they would likely heighten tensions with those neighboring NATO neighbors and increase the likely hood of possible internal conflicts to erupt in Latvia and Lithuania. In Latvia the Latvian Russian Union can be used by Russia to consulate power in that country and withdraw it from NATO while in Lithuania no such political organization exist Russia can still use internal supporters to agitate Lithuania’s pro NATO, EU government.
Even without interfering in Latvian and Lithuanian politics a military presence in Belarus will simply expand the presence of Russian forces on NATO borders, which would call for heightened security in an already tense part of the world. Russian Special Forces such as GRU and the Spetsnaz and Paratroopers from the VDV have been proven to be able to rapidly deployed in countries with poor defenses as they did in Crimea in 2014. Russia can also create splinter groups within Latvia in particular that can be advised by Russian special forces allowing another conflict such as that in Ukraine. The consequences of such actions would be detrimental to the regions stability and security. Currently Russia airbase in Belarus fly’s short range Mig-29 fighters that often meet with NATO F-15s and Typhoons on Lithuania and Latvia’s border. This has taken place since 2014 and the Russian threat has been contained but any future increase in Russian presence in Belarus would call for a larger NATO ground contingent to be based in Lithuania and Latvia to further contain Russian adventurism.