Yesterday state official Belarusian and Russian news sources have reported Russian S-400 air defence missile systems arriving in Belarus.
According to Russian TASS, Russia's ministry of defence stated: "Upon arrival at the places of accomplishing their training tasks, the Russian teams of the S-400 surface-to-air missile launchers will go on air defence combat alert as part of the Russia-Belarus integrated air defence system."
This adds to what Bne Intellinews reported on earlier, namely that the military build-up of air defence capacity in Belarus today could be the initiation of a strengthening of the Russian-Belarusian Union State's Unified Regional Air-Defence System (URADS).
Russia's defence ministry reported in January that it was transferring of two battalions of the air defence missile system S-400 Triumf from Russia's Eastern Military District’s Air Force and Air Defence Army to Belarus. The missle systems will participate in Belarus' and Russia's recently announced military exercises "Allied Resolve", which will be held during this month. The exercises will reportedly be held in "Domanovsky, Gozhsky, Obuz-Lesnovsky, Brestsky and Osipovichsky training grounds and also on some terrain sections on Belarusian soil." Moreover, "The Baranovichi, Luninets, Lida and Machulishchi airfields will also be involved in the drills."
The exercises will be conducted along Belarus' borders with Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania and appear to mainly consist of a large build-up of Russian air defence forces in Belarus.
According to Belarus and Russian official sources, the exercises are supposed to enact a specific action plan to practise "shutting down channels of the supply of arms, munitions and other means and also searching for, blocking and eliminating outlawed armed militants and enemy subversive and reconnaissance groups. The exercise will also highlight certain issues of post-conflict settlement."
Several independent political analysts have for the past few days called the stationing of Russian troops in Belarus an invasion, and a way for Russia to assure full military control of Belarus. This pertains to the thought that Russia wishes to annex Belarus and get rid of the current disputed president Alexander Lukashenko by force. While Moscow surely wants to control Belarus, it is most likely not looking for an annexation. Disregarding the political discontent and clashes with loyal Belarusian forces that would arise, this would mean a complete takeover of Belarus' quite special and heavily indebted economy. Moscow is probably not ready for this, and certainly doesn't have to worry, since the continued international isolation of the Belarusian regime makes it increasingly dependent on Moscow anyway.
As Bne IntelliNews has reported, Russia is most likely not seeking a war with Ukraine, but is surely trying to intimidate it into implementing the Minsk Agreements. Minsk, on its part, certainly doesn’t need a war with Ukraine, but has no problems with scaring Ukraine a little, since it suits Minsk’s domestic political purposes. Minsk is playing out its main geopolitical bargaining chip with Russia, which is Belarus' geographically military strategic importance. And by (almost) playing out this card fully, Minsk probably hopes to receive much needed political and economic support from Moscow, at least for the remainder of this year.