Russia has this week reassured NATO and the West that the proposed establishment of a Russian airbase in Belarus should not be seen as a response to US missile defense plans in Europe. “I see no reasons to worry about this issue,” Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference with his German and Polish counterparts in Warsaw. Belarus borders NATO members Poland, Latvia and Lithuania and NATO nations now fly combat air patrols from the Baltic states close to Russian airspace, which has previously been met with controversy in Moscow.
The Russian Foreign Minister emphasised that Russia and Belarus share a “unified military airspace”, and that this airbase should not be seen as a cause for concern or interpreted as retaliation for a proposed missile defense in Europe. Minister Lavrov explained:
“No matter if there are Belarusian or Russian planes there, nothing will change… We are protecting our border [of the Union State of Russia and Belarus].”
Currently Russia has agreements with Belarus and Kazakhstan to create joint regional air defense systems, but eventually Russia is planning to construct an integrated air and missile defense system covering all six countries of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which also includes Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Meanwhile, adding to international concerns, it has been reported that Russia’s Southern Military District’s forces, whose responsibility cover the entire Caucasus region, have been re-equipping relatively fast. With bases in Armenia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, this news has raised questions about the nature of the increased activity by the Russian military in the region–whether it is a sign of “dynamic development” or a “power message” to its neighbours?
The modernisation of Russia’s military power has arguably been a priority since its 2008 war with Georgia, and with the 2014 Sochi olympics on the horizon, analysts have suggested that this surge of military activity may simply be a display of development. Georgian and Russian relations have seen some movement since the beginning of this year, thawing a political stalemate which lasted since the 2008 conflict.
However, in his meeting with German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle and Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, Lavrov said that security in Europe was “only possible together with Russia.”