Kaliningrad detonatorThe intrigue around the Russian-Belarusian strategic drills “Zapad-2017”, which was announced in advanced to be held in autumn on Belarusian soil increase with each passing day. 

And recent public explanation of the Commander in Chief of the Belarusian Armed Forces Alexander Lukashenka did not bring clarity about these war games. According to him, they are ordinary joint strategic exercises, which are held alternately in each of the participating countries. However, what is obvious to everyone, this time they will take place in an unusual environment that has arisen following the Crimean blitzkrieg, the war in eastern Ukraine and the current acute crisis between Minsk and Moscow. His reference to the Ukrainian list seems appropriate, when recalling those “gas” rounds of struggle of Kyiv with the Kremlin that played a prominent role in the current confrontation between them and consequently led to the destruction of the system of European security.

 

Munich Conference

The system or rather its destruction should soon be discussed by politicians and experts from around the world at the Munich Conference on Security Policy. It was in Munich, where on February 10, 2007, Putin marked the resumption of a new Cold War. At least, his speech was perceived so by many in the West.

According to some reports, in the next Munich Conference, the USA could be represented by the new Secretary of State, or even possibly the new Vice-president. Following the official announcement on Trump`s meeting with his NATO allies in late May, “in one of European capitals”, Munich will not host him. Yet, the current head of the White House is expected to continue all sorts of surprises, with which he had already astonished the whole in the first week of his presidency.

Therefore, the unpredictability of Trump does not exclude his appearance at the forum, whose main topic is the struggle against international terrorism. As known, this topic Trump identified as his major presidential task upon ascending to power in Washington D.C. Some attention may also be paid to the issues of regional security, in particular, in the Baltic and Black Sea space.

In any case, the February forum in Munich is designed to be a kind of thermometer, which will show the real level of safety in the sick Europe.

 

The growing threat

Meanwhile, the activity of the armed forces of different countries in the Baltic region leads to many thoughts about the approaching threat. This state is achieving its own dynamics even more by every passing day. In accordance with the resolution adopted at the Warsaw Summit of NATO, the military units of the member-states have been arriving in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in order to strengthen the defense capability of the Baltic countries against Russian threat, which was also identified by the mentioned summit. These actions were meant to reinforce NATO`s eastern flank. The appearance of American soldiers in Poland with very serious weapons and systems was to impress about seriousness of the evolving situation in the region.

Other active measures on the eastern flank of NATO do not remain without attention. For instance, the Latvian armed forces reported on a Russian ship passing a few miles from the territorial waters of Latvia.

On January 25, NATO`s patrol aircraft noticed two fighters of the Russian armed forces, Su-24 and AN-26, over the Baltic Sea near the outer limits of the territorial waters of Latvia.

 

Minsk-Riga: secret protocol

In this regard, it would be necessary to emphasize that a two-day working meeting of representatives of the armed forces of the Republic of Belarus and the Republic of Latvia met in Minsk and discussed the implementation of the agreements between Belarus and Latvia on additional measures of trust and security.

According to official information, the parties assessed the implementation of the provisions of the Agreement, reviewed proposals aimed at improving the efficiency of additional measures of trust and security, as well as agreed on bilateral cooperation in the field of arms control in 2017. As a result of the working meeting, a protocol was signed, which was never mentioned in media. Maybe because it was followed by the event labeled as “Big Conversation”, during which Minsk's intentions to withdraw from the CSTO and Russia-led integrational structures were loudly refuted.

 

The trajectory of the Kremlin's strategic thought

It is worth recalling that a meeting of the joint board of the Ministries of Defence of Belarus and Russia approved the plan of common activities for the years 2016-2018, which is aimed at the formation of the military organization of the “union state.”

As the officials assured, its integral part is the Regional military groupings of troops (forces) of Belarus and Russia with the Russian forces in the Kaliningrad enclave. For some time now there have appeared glorious Iskanders, a real threat to NATO`s Baltic member-countries. It is assumed that their appearance in Kaliningrad deprived Belarus of strategic importance for Moscow in opposition to NATO's activity on its eastern flank. But, as some strategists argue, today's virtuality of the “union state” could easily be transformed into reality tomorrow.

For example, the issue on the Russian airbase in Belarus could well be replaced by the subject of a missile base with Iskanders. Why would the Kremlin`s strategists not diversify their Iskander threat to NATO, adding to Kaliningrad a platform for missiles on the territory of Belarus? Among other things, the emergence of Russian Iskanders in Armenia is not intended against Azerbaijan, but much further south... From there they may face NATO.

With this strategic thought of the Kremlin on the increasing tensions in the Baltic flank of NATO, the Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea, surrounded by NATO countries, rather than neighboring Belarus could become a detonator for the explosive situation prevailing in the region. And such a situation is clearly not facilitated by the present state of relations between Minsk and Vilnius due to construction of a Belarusian nuclear power plant on the Lithuanian border.

This facility is perceived both in Vilnius and Brussels as Moscow`s geopolitical instrument of pressure. Similar intentions are also seen in Minsk`s behavior. Thus, bordering Kaliningrad and Belarus create a special, anxious tone for Lithuania.

In the meantime, very few would be optimistic to speak about the real existence of this “state”. It was not observed also in Minsk during the recent “Big Conversation”, at which the Minister of Defence was absent. As there is no “union state”, neither is its military organization, the formation of which was once mentioned by General Shoigu. By the way, as noted by some foreign observers, his Belarusian counterpart has recently disappeared from media. Therefore, the current lull of both defense minister and his deputies in press is perceived ambiguously. Especially against the background of different expectations and talks about the upcoming strategic exercises labeled as “Zapad-2017” with the participation of Russian troops.

It is obvious that the drills are paid more attention to by the Kremlin than ever before. As to the first visit of President Trump in Europe.

 

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