A strategic command-staff exercise of the Russian Armed Forces, which President Vladimir Putin observed, has become a focus of attention for NATO. It is evident that Russia’s activities are aimed at improving its defense and reducing threats connected with NATO’s impending expansion. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov stated at the 40th security conference in Munich on February 7 that cooperation between Russia and NATO slows down. According to the defense minister, “the current version of the Conventional arms agreement cannot retain stability and balance of interests in Europe”. It should be noted that Sergei Ivanov stated that “NATO’s expansion affects Russian vital interests”, and Russia will use its arsenals in order to ensure its security.

It is evident that the problem of NATO’s expansion eastward and the effectiveness of the Conventional arms agreement will be discussed until June 2004 when new members join the alliance. It is possible that Russia will obtain the right to control some military bases in Poland and the Baltic States. However, it is clear that the process of NATO’s expansion is inevitable, and Moscow has already prepared a system of military measures, which must reduce new geopolitical threats. Some measures already work.

For instance, observers have repeatedly noted that economic problems between Russia and Belarus contrast with successes of fruitful cooperation between their security ministries. A visit by Vladimir Rushailo, Russian Secretary of the Security Council, to Minsk concerned the protection of the western border of the Russian-Belarusian Union. Belarusian politicians stated that the S-300 anti-aircraft complexes, which Russia supplied to Belarus, are already on duty. Gennady Nevyglas, Belarusian Secretary of the Security Council, noted at a press conference after Rushailo’s visit that Moscow and Minsk intend to discuss the issue of NATO’s expansion with other CIS member nations.

In the meantime, some sources state that Russia will also supply the Iskander operational-tactical missile complexes (the range of fire is 500 kilometers) to the Belarusian Army. In addition, Russia will deploy such complexes in the Kaliningrad region. As a result, Russia will be able to control Poland and the Baltic States. It should be noted that the Iskander complex belongs to the category of high-precision weapons; the power of its warheads can be compared with small nuclear bombs. It should be noted that Belarusian cadets, who will use these complexes, already study at Russian military schools.

Belarusian Defense Minister Leonid Maltsev has repeatedly stated that unlike servicemen of other CIS armies Belarusian cadets study together with Russian cadets.

Russia will strengthen its long-range aviation in 2004. Vladimir Mikhailov, Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force, stated that one Tu-160 strategic bomber will be purchased and three will be built by the Kazan aircraft plant. As a rule, Russian long-range bombers fly to belarusian airdromes during strategic exercises. It is evident that the main objective of such flights is to solve tasks of strategic defense in the Western sector.

Meanwhile, Moscow makes active moves on the southern border of the CIS. This concerns the base in Armenia to which Russia withdrew ammunition from Georgia in 2003, the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov and the Northern Caucasus. An agreement on the status of the Sea of Azov signed by the Russian and Ukrainian presidents in late 2003 (the Sea of Azov is an interior sea of Russia and Ukraine) shows that NATO’s warships will never enter this region without Russia’s permission.

The Russian defense minister did not discuss the timing of the withdrawal of Russian bases from Georgia during negotiations with US State Secretary Colin Powell in late January. He did not discuss the possibility of financial support from the US to Russian troops withdrawn from Georgia. Mr. Ivanov stated in Munich that the withdrawal of bases from Georgia does not concern the Conventional arms agreement – this is a problem, which must be solved by Russia and Georgia. The Russian leadership makes similar statements regarding the Trans-Dniester territory. In this regard, it is very likely that Russia will try to retain its military contingents in the Trans-Dniester territory and Georgia. These contingents and other factors will become a counterbalance to NATO’s expansion.

Almost 40% of military units of the Defense Ministry and over 50% of the Interior Troops are deployed in the Northern Caucasus. The experience of the first and second Chechen campaigns shows that Russia can easily strengthen this group. It will surely do this if something threatens its national interests.

The Russian leadership makes strict military moves aimed at ensuring security of the Russian Federation and post-Soviet republics. It is evident that this tendency will continue: the budget of the security structures has increased; Russia plans to strengthen its military groups in the CIS (Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) and conduct coalition exercises within the framework of the Organization of the collective security treaty; Moscow creates new kinds of weapons and plans to create a professional army.