The fact that despite the existing tradition, this year, the Russian and Belarusian presidents inspected the Russian-Belarusian West maneuvers each on his own proves that there are certain contradictions between Russia and Belarus and some of them concern their military partnership.
According to member of the Russian President’s Council for Interethnic Relations Bogdan Bezpalko, this fact points to a growing crisis in the Russian-Belarusian relations. “Belarus remains Russia’s ally and part of the Union State. But there is no integration between the two states and this concern defense as well. Even more, the countries have certain contradictions in this field. They have different approaches to how the Belarusian army should be armed and to how Belarus should pay for the supplies. The Russians’ attempt to open an air base in the Belarusian territory has failed. Lukashenko insists that Russian arms should be free of charge for Belarus. So, what happened was just a reflection of this crisis,” Bezpalko said.
“The countries continue conducting joint maneuvers and setting common goals but we are receiving more and more alarm calls. “The Belarusian authorities keep arresting pro-Russian bloggers. Some hot heads in Belarus even consider the Belarusian Polonaise missile systems as a good way to pressure the Russians. And not all of those men are pro-western,” Bezpalko said.
Head of the Belarus Department of the CIS Institute Alexander Fadeyev is convinced that there were serious grounds for the Russian and Belarusian presidents not to inspect the maneuvers together. “The presidents were supposed to be there together. But they changed their plans. Presidents make such changes only in case of force majeures. So, there must have been some serious political motives here,” Fadeyev said.
According to him, this is the first time the Russian and Belarusian presidents have refrained from inspecting the maneuvers together. “They did that even at the time their countries had serious economic contradictions,” Fadeyev said.
“It was Belarus who first suggested inviting external observes to the maneuvers. In contracts, NATO has never invited either Belarusians or Russians to its maneuvers in the Baltics. The Russians accepted that initiative so as not to rock the boat but the Belarusians carried it too far and decided to invite observers from NATO. This must have been an attempt to show that they have their own foreign policy and their own vision of their relations with the EU and NATO,” Fadeyev said.
Expert at the Higher School of Economics Dmitry Bolkunets suggests that there might have been some deeper factors. “But since the maneuvers were effective and since both leaders attended them, we can assume that their contradictions are not very serious,” the expert said.
According to him, the West’s hysteria about the maneuvers is groundless. “Their hysteria that the maneuvers were a pretext for Russia to occupy the Baltics, Belarus, Ukraine and Poland has proved to be groundless, unlike the fact that a week before the maneuvers, the Americans had delivered arms to Poland and that the Russian-Belarusian maneuvers were just a pretext for them to enlarge their presence in the region,” Bolkunets said.
On the last day of the West 2017 maneuvers, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko visited the Borysaw training ground. He was expected to be there together with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But this year, Putin visited only the Luzhsky training ground in Leningrad region. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu was also absent. Lukashenko explained that Putin and he had a preliminary agreement to inspect the maneuvers separately.
West 2017 took place Sept 14-20 and involved 12,700 men, 70 planes and helicopters and 680 military vehicles.