Just two days after Republican presidential candidates debated on national TV about future plans to confront an expansionist Russian president known for being nostalgic about the former days of the Soviet Union, Russian President Vladimir Putin has now ordered that a government agreement be signed with Belarus’ government to allow for a Russian base on Belarusian soil, a move that will likely concern neighboring Poland and the European Union.
Putin also ordered the Russian Defense Ministry to begin all necessary negotiations with government leaders in Minsk on the topic.
Media attention shifted last week to the Kremlin’s latest decision to send more troops and military equipment to an airbase in Latakia, Syria and Russian leaders admitted that Russia will continue military aid to war torn Syria that is struggling to contain Islamic State in its borders.
In recent weeks, thousands of Syrian migrants have washed up on Greece’s shores with the intention of moving north to wealthier countries in northern Europe, catching Europe’s western leaders off guard by the massive inflow into the European Union while eastern European leaders in the eastern EU states bristle at quota demands from Berlin to divide the flow of Middle Eastern migrants into their countries.
Russia is now capitalizing on the latest migration distraction and is sowing the seeds for its influence to continue growing westward into Belarus which borders an EU country, Poland.
The move from Moscow is sending a psychological message to NATO and to the West which come after Russia seized control of Crimea in Ukraine earlier last year and stands accused of supporting Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Landlocked between Russia to the northeast, Poland to the west and Ukraine to the south, the country of Belarus is largely dependent on Russia for its gas and oil along with half of its foreign trade.
Parliament in Belarus decreed sovereignty of the country in July 1990 following the collapse of the Soviet Union and later sought independence in August 1991 for 9 million of its citizens.
Belarus and Russia signed a treaty for greater cooperation in 2000 and $6.3 billion in Russian capital has been invested in Belarus.
In 2009 an agreement was signed between Belarus and Russia, seeking the formation of a joint air force to defend their borders.
Four years later, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu spoke about the possibility of an air base in Belarus.
Belarus is classified as “not free” by Freedom House and has faced past condemnations for human rights violations under the leadership of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko who has been president of Belarus since 1994. On October 11th Belarus has a new presidential election.
On Friday Russian President Vladimir Putin and President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko took part in the 2nd Forum of Russian and Belarusian regions and a statement was later released by the Kremlin’s press service about the order for a Russian air force base in Belarus.
Russia already has some fighter jets in Belarus where it once operated air force bases during the Soviet Union era.
Yesterday Russian President Vladimir Putin observed the final stage of the Tsentr-strategic headquarters military exercises at the Donguzsky Test Ground in the Urals region of southern Russia.
On Monday President Putin is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Russia for bilateral cooperation and discussion of current international affairs.