Commenting on Ukraine 24 TV channel the information about military exercise in Belarus “Indestructible Brotherhood-2020”, I stressed that the local authorities are consciously trying to “drift” in the fairway of Russia. We need to realize this, because this fact shows the military threat to Ukraine that has arisen from the north. Military cooperation between Russia and Belarus is systematic in nature, both in a bilateral format and within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The Regional Group of Troops of Russia and Belarus, directed against NATO in the Baltic region, has been operating since 1999. However, the Armed Forces of Belarus include only four mechanized brigades and three brigades of the Special Operations Forces.
V. Putin is forced to react to mass protests in Belarus against the Lukashenko regime because the overthrow of the dictatorial government under pressure from the Belarusian opposition and the West may become another precedent in the post-Soviet space, and this is not good for Russia, which is also not safe from similar events.
At the same time, Russia is wary of openly interfering in Belarusian events because of the threat of tightening Western sanctions. This explains the recent disbandment of what was created to support the Belarusian government in August 2020 — “reserve” of Russian troops. The part of this “reserve” formed from the units of Russia’s internal troops — the RosGuards — and concentrated on the Russian-Belarusian border returned to the places of permanent deployment.
By creating such a “reserve”, Moscow sought to demonstrate its readiness to assist A. Lukashenko in case if he loses control over the situation in the country or the West interferes in it. Especially as A. Lukashenko openly accused Poland of its intentions to seize Grodno region under the pretext of protecting the Polish minority there.
Grodno region of Belarus is strategically important for both Russia and NATO, as it is the shortest route between Belarus and Kaliningrad region of the Russian Federation. This shortest route is also called the Suwalki Gap, which runs along the border between Poland and Lithuania. The capture of the Suwalki Corridor by the 1st Tank Army of the RF AF from the Grodno region is one of the main elements of the scenario of the “West”-type SCPE of the Armed Forces of Russia and Belarus.
Under such circumstances, quite eloquent is the agreement between A. Lukashenko and V. Putin to hold Russian-Belarusian exercises on a permanent basis (almost monthly), which was reached on August 14, 2020, at their meeting in Sochi and justified by NATO’s alleged interference in the events in Belarus.
Supporting the Lukashenko regime and implementing such plans, Russia will be able to maintain its military presence in Belarus even without permanent military bases on its territory. Besides, according to a number of estimates, Russian troops will have access to the arsenals of the Belarusian Armed Forces, which were formed during the Soviet era and are now being replenished and updated and are fully usable.
This is confirmed by the exercise “Slavic Brotherhood-2020”, which took place on September 14–25 this year in Belarus. They involved units of the 38th Airborne Assault Brigade (Brest) of the Special Operations Forces of the Armed Forces of Belarus, as well as about 200 servicemen of the 76th Airborne Assault Division (Pskov) of the Airborne Troops of the Russian Armed Forces. The exercise itself took place at the training ground near Brest — in fact on the western border with Poland and Ukraine. Officially, it was anti-terrorist. But, in fact, elements of offensive operations were worked out: airborne landing, supported by army, tactical and even strategic aviation. For example, Russian Tu22-M3 long-range bombers and Tu-95M strategic bombers were flying over Belarus against a single operational background with the exercise.
September 11, 2020, the CIS Joint Air Defense System was trained with the participation of Belarus. As part of it, Russian fighters from the 6th Air Force and Air Defense Army (HQ — St. Petersburg) were flying in the airspace of Belarus.
Units of the Armed Forces of Belarus also participated in the main part of the Russian SCPE “Caucasus-2020”, which took place on September 21–26 in Russia. And already now, on October 12–16, the exercise of the CSTO peacekeeping forces “Indestructible Brotherhood-2020” is in full swing on the territory of Belarus. Officially, it is anti-terrorist. In fact, its scale is typical of combined arms military operations. Moscow and Minsk call all these exercises a reaction to the current events in Belarus and NATO intervention in them. But they are planned, i.e. take place in accordance with previously planned operational and combat training measures. In other words, virtually nothing outside these plans is being done. After all, Russia does not have the funds and other resources needed to defend its position in the post-Soviet space.
I’ll tell you more! As a result of the deteriorating state of the economy under Western sanctions, and due to the coronavirus epidemic and falling world energy prices, Russia is forced to deliberately reduce military spending. Thus, in 2021, Russia plans to reduce funds for the needs of “national defense” by 441 billion rubles — up to 1.453 trillion rubles (by 23 %), which is the lowest figure since 2011 compared to expected GDP.
Under these circumstances, back in May 2020, the leadership of the Russian Federation appealed to the United States and NATO to reduce military activity in Europe on a parity basis. NATO leadership has left such a proposal unanswered. However, Russia has significantly reduced the scale of the “Caucasus-2020” SCPE compared to the SCPEs conducted in previous years. Thus, the total number of servicemen involved in the SCPE “East-2018” was declared at the level of 300 thousand people, SCPE “Center-2019” — 150 thousand people, and “Caucasus-2020” — already 80 thousand people. In fact, no more than 12,000 servicemen were on the training grounds at the main stage of the “Caucasus-2020” exercise.
But let’s return to the exercise of the CSTO peacekeeping forces “Indestructible Brotherhood-2020”, which is taking place in Vitebsk region at the Losvido training ground of the 103rd Separate Airborne Brigade of the Armed Forces of Belarus. There are contingents of CSTO member states, operational groups of the Joint Staff and the CSTO Secretariat, police forces and emergency units. In total, more than 700 servicemen, more than 100 pieces of military and special equipment, including helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles. For obvious reasons, there are no units from Armenia and Kyrgyzstan in this exercise. Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross are expected to participate as observers.
The aim of the exercise is to improve practical skills of commanders and staffs of all levels in preparing for a peacekeeping operation and managing military units (subdivisions) of the CSTO collective peacekeeping forces in the course of peacekeeping missions; to improve the combat coherence of the peacekeeping contingents of the CSTO member states; to improve the cooperation of peacekeeping contingents of CSTO member states.
At the first training stage, a peacekeeping operation will be prepared by the CSTO collective peacekeeping forces. At the second stage, there will be practical actions to carry out the tasks of the CSTO collective peacekeeping forces during the peacekeeping operation. CSTO member states will improve the level of control over compliance with the ceasefire agreement and the actions of the population in the area of responsibility, help restore peaceful life in the territories affected by the conflict, monitor transportation, stop the illegal import and export of weapons and ammunition, explosives. In cooperation with the militia (police), the CSTO peacekeeping units will rehearse counteracting mass unrest.
Victor Hvozd on Ukraine 24 TV channel (in Ukrainian):