A joint sitting of boards of the Russian and Belarussian defense ministries have shown the unity of their views on the problems of regional and global security.

Despite the assurances of Russian military that Moscow is pursuing a non-bloc foreign defense policy, rapidly developing military contacts between Russia and Belarus show that the two countries are close allies. This assumption is further confirmed by the sitting of the Executive Committee of the Russian-Belarussian Union that took place last week and the joint sitting of the boards of two defense ministries. The latter took place on the premises of the CIS Military Cooperation Coordinating Headquarters and was attended by defense ministers Colonel-General Alexander Chumakov and Marshal Igor Sergeev, their deputies and commanders of the branches of service.

Six problems were discussed, and the most important of them concerned Russian and Belarussian defense ministries’ foreign policy within the framework of the geostrategic situation that took shape with Poland’s, Hungary’s and Czechia’s potential membership in the Alliance. Present day situation in former Yugoslavia was also analyzed. The military expressed their worry over the fact that leadership of former Socialist countries (Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary) had provided air corridors for NATO aircraft in case the Alliance did go ahead with its air-raid plans. Proper conclusions should be drawn from this fact, and certain corrections should be introduced into the tasks of defense of the two countries – that is how Russian and Belarussian delegations defined one of the directions of the future defense policy.

In the meantime, Defense Minister Sergeev denounced the reports in some media to the effect that the joint sitting had allegedly “decided to provide military help to Belgrade.” Sergeev said that “the Kosovo problem was discussed by our political leaders exhaustively, and is specified in some plans.” And the plans, as we know – are purely humanitarian, and not military at all.

On the other hand, it is difficult – almost impossible, in fact – to conceal the two countries’ eagerness for close military integration. These days, Russia and Belarus conduct a joint foreign policy, making an emphasis on the measures providing regional security. It’s understandable. Belarus has borders with Poland and Lithuania, and both countries are actively facilitating their contacts with NATO. Neither Russia nor Belarus can stop the process. At the same time, they can do something to slow it down at least, and that can be accomplished by joint efforts.

The other day they decided that Moscow would modernize Buk anti-aircraft complexes of the Belarussian Anti-Aircraft Forces. According to specialists to the Russian Defense Ministry, after some work on them at the Ulianovsk Plant, Buk middle-range complexes will be able to handle both aircraft of the strategic and tactical operation, helicopters, and winged missiles, but also the tactical ballistic, aviation missiles, elements of high-precision weapons, and even surface targets. As far as the major parameters are concerned, the modernized Buk systems will outperform even the widely publicized EuroSAM complex which is being designed.

The work on Buk modernization in Russia lasted three years (1994 to 1997) and was headed by Designer General Yevgeny Pigin and his deputy Gennadi Kaufman. Buk-M1-2 new complex has a considerable fire power and can handle six target at a time coming in from different directions and on different altitudes. As far as the range of combat application is concerned, this system does not have analogues in the world.

Russia is interested in providing military-technical assistance to Belarus which has been impeccably fulfilling its obligations concerning protection of the western air borders of the Commonwealth. Belarussian Anti-Aircraft Forces crews regularly participate in joint command exercises with their Russian colleagues, every year they come to Russian testing grounds where combat shooting exercises are executed. The fact is, Minsk appealed to Moscow for help in modernization of all elements of the Belarussian Anti-Aircraft Forces after the NATO’s promise to launch air-raids against former Yugoslavia.

In other words, we are now witnessing Moscow’s and Minsk’s concrete moves aimed at creation of a joint defense system. The process was considerably sped up by the latest developments in Kosovo. Of course, Russia’s and Belarus’ defense potential is weaker than that of NATO countries, but it is precisely where the Strategic Missiles Forces factors is coming into play. It is precisely nuclear missiles that allow Russia and its allies to maintain parity with the Alliance. In order to make this parity effective indeed, Moscow and Minsk are facilitating their relations, as results of the joint sitting of the boards have signified. Its participants discussed the composition of the regional army group, their control, and the procedure of planning, accumulation, maintenance, and the use of operational stocks in its interests.

Along with that, participants of the sitting continued the discussion of the concept of a joint defense order of the Russian-Belarussian Union, discussed the joint technical maintenance of the regional army group, and a complex program of the two defense ministries military-technical cooperation. Defense ministers signed an agreement on foreign political activities of the two ministries after the NATO expansion and on security in the military sphere. Besides, agreements were signed on the joint use of objects of the military infrastructures and on informational exchange. Military cooperation plans for 1999, a complex program of military-technical cooperation, and the plan of work on the common defense order were endorsed at the sitting.

Special object at the settlement of Baranovichi is a confirmation enough. According to what the Belarussian sources maintain, Russia has activated here construction of an anti-missile system separate radiotechnical installation. Save for some objects of the infrastructure, the work at the station is all but completed. Equipment is brought and installed, and tested.

A delay which prevented us from switching over to the Baranovichi object when the Skrunde station was closed, is attributed to a number of reasons. Irregular financing during the past five years is the most important of them. Nevertheless, all systems of the Baranovichi object are supposed to be turned on within the next several months.

Active contacts between the Armored Vehicles Main Department (AVMD) of the Russian Armed Forces and Belarussian Army’s Armored Vehicles Service are another example of the joint activities of Russian and Belarussian defense ministries. Not long ago AVMD commander Colonel-General Mayev and his deputies, representatives of research institutes, and heads of military-industrial complex enterprises made a trip to Minsk. A similar Belarussian delegation visited Moscow where it attended a conference of district armament commanders, heads of enterprises and institutes. Soon, a kind of lessons will be organized at the 140th Repair Plant at the town of Borisov for heads of tank repair enterprises from Russia. Borisov Plant executes some orders for the Russian Defense Ministry as well, and they are almost 50% cheaper than if similar jobs were done at Russian military-industrial complex enterprises. According to Anatoly Rakitsky, head of the Belarussian Army’s Armored Vehicles Service, “these days, it is very important to establish long-range personal contacts which will grow into cooperation and into joint industrial programs.”

Russia and Belarus are also executing their military educational programs. In 1997, a General and five officers of the Belarussian Army were sent to the General Staff Military Academy in Moscow. This year, sixty one Belarussian officer was enrolled at assorted military educational establishments in Russia. Eleven officers became listeners of the Russian General Staff Military Academy, the rest study at the Air Force and Air Force Engineering Academies, Chemical Defense Military Academy, Military Medical Academy, Military Academy of Rear Services and Transport, Military Engineering Academy, Communications Military Academy, and at the military finances economic faculty of the Moscow State Academy.

This time, Russian Defense Minister ordered that Belarussian officers were included in the same groups with Russian ones. Not a single other country of the Commonwealth enjoys this privilege, while officers from other countries of the world study at the so called special faculties.

In short, military-technical cooperation between Russia and Belarus is developing. It is facilitated by the political will of presidents Boris Yeltsin and Alexander Lukashenko, and the heads of the two governments, Yevgeny Primakov and Sergei Ling.