In midst of Exercise Zapad 2021, Russia and Belarus establish joint air defense and air force combat and training center

As Russia and Belarus made final preparations to launch their quadrennial joint strategic and operational exercise Zapad 2021, the air defense and air force units of the two countries were put into joint service as part of the recently established training and combat center in Grodno Oblast, western Belarus. Russian military assets and crews arrived in Belarus from late August to early September, just ahead of the Zapad 2021 exercises, which officially lasted September 10-16. While these measures could be misinterpreted as proof that the Kremlin is finally deploying a Russian Military Base on Belarusian territory, in fact, the Belarusian side is in charge of both the activities and the use of the common center.

On September 9, the joint units participated in a ritualistic ceremony of assuming combat functions to jointly protect the airspace of the Federated State of Belarus and Russia, at 61st Fighter air base of the Belarusian Air Force (military unit 54804), in Baranovichi. At the same time, joint air defense units in the western part of Belarus assumed combat duty with the same tasks (, September 9).

According to the Belarusian Ministry of Defense, the aim of the Joint Air Defense and Training and Combat Center of the Air Force is to improve professional training and study new types of equipment who in the near future could be put into service in the Belarusian army. . In addition, the center will improve the practical skills of personnel of Belarusian armed forces and Russian aerospace forces (see EDM [1] [2], May 11).

Russia provided air defense and air force elements to this installation. On August 28, the first train loaded with Russian military equipment and crews, including multifunctional radars, command and control vehicles and at least two S-400 surface-to-air missile (SAM) launchers, arrived at Grodno, Belarus (, August 28). Presumably this equipment is from the 210e Anti-aircraft missile regiment of the 4e Air Defense Division of the 1st Army of air and missile defense forces. On September 8, at least one wing of four Russian Su-30SM heavy fighters landed at 61st Baranovichi Fighter Air Base (, September 8), where they will remain to carry out joint training and combat missions. Presumably they belong to the 14e Guard fighter aviation regiment of the 105e Combined Aviation Division of the 6e Air Force and Air Defense Army of the Western Military District of Russia.

Russian sources claim that the S-400 units brought to Belarus will soon be deployed in the territory of 2285e Independent radio technical battalion, near the positions of 1st Anti-aircraft missile regiment of the Belarusian Air Defense Forces, equipped with SAM S-300PS, in Grodno oblast (, August 30). Belarusian military officials were careful not to divulge any details about this. But if this reported location is correct, it means Russian S-400 launchers would be stationed just four kilometers from the Polish border.

Belarusian military officials claim that the Joint Training and Combat Center in Grodno will strengthen the practical component of the Union State’s Unified Regional Air Defense System (URADS) (, September 9), which means that the installation is likely included in this system as a subordinate element. According to the Agreement on the Joint Protection of External Borders which established the State of the Union URADS (, November 2, 2016), peacetime service by joint assets and crews is carried out in accordance with the service plan approved by the Russian and Belarusian defense ministries. Russian aircrews on combat duty in Belarusian airspace are put in the air by an agreed decision of the operational duty officer of the Aerospace Control Center of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and the officer operational service of the central command post of the Air Force and Air Defense Forces of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus. The procedure for the use of military weapons and equipment by air defense forces is determined by the legislation of the Party in whose territory the military weapons and equipment are used. In short, this means that, legally, all Russian military assets and crews assigned to the Joint Air Defense and Training and Combat Center of the Air Force in Grodno are subordinate to the Belarusian side, that is that is, at the central command post of the Belarusian Air Force and Air Force. -Defense forces. In wartime, URADS becomes a composite element of the Regional Grouping of Belarusian and Russian Forces, whose permanent commander is the Chief of General Staff of the Belarusian Armed Forces.

Moreover, since the creation of URADS in 2013, only Belarusian representatives had been in charge: the commanders of the air forces and air defense forces of the Republic of Belarus Oleg Dvigalev (2013-2017) and Igor Golub (since 2018). And if the political and geopolitical opportunity prompts Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to withdraw Russian forces visiting Russia, he will take this step. By way of illustration, it ousted four Russian Su-27PM fighter jets in 2015, amid the escalating Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Therefore, the Joint Center in Grodno Oblast should not be considered a Russian “military base” in terms of command and control, as it does not have extraterritorial status and is not directly subordinate to the command. Russian. It should be noted that the Kremlin specifically tried to dictate these terms and conditions in 2015, when it unsuccessfully pushed for the installation of a Russian air base in Bobruisk, Belarus (see, March 2, 2020).

By subscribing to the idea of ​​a joint training center on Belarusian territory, Lukashenka is said to have tried to secure the influx of modern Russian military equipment (at least eight Su-30SM fighter jets and one S-400 SAM battery with Russian crews) free of charge and under his command. But it appears the Kremlin figured out his clever plan and only provided him with four Su-30SMs and two S-400 SAM launchers, most likely in rotation. The Russian leadership still sees a permanent military base in Belarus as the only acceptable option. Therefore, Moscow is not interested in strengthening the Belarusian armed forces by providing free or even on preferential terms important modern Russian military equipment (see EDM, March 2, September 10).

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