Experts believe Russia is coercing and intimidating its neighbors through military means, escalating tension in eastern Europe.
Militarisation in eastern Europe has got a shot in the arm recently as Russia provides Belarus with heavy military equipment raising eyebrows in Europe and within NATO.
Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko announced on September 3 that Russia will send a massive military consignment which includes aircraft, helicopters and air defence systems.
The heavy arms transfer to Belarus, is likely to be interpreted as a sign of Moscow’s support for Lukashenko's violent crackdown against opposition protests to his rule last year which was condemned by Western nations.
"Russia in the near future... will supply us - I won't say how much money or what - with dozens of planes, dozens of helicopters, the most important air defence weapons," Lukashenko was quoted as saying.
"Maybe even S-400s (surface-to-air missiles). We need them very much as I've said in the past," Lukashenko added.
Russia and Belarus will also run a joint military exercise, the Zapad-2021, on September 10-16 as the presidents of both countries are set to hold talks in Russia on September 9, just before the exercise.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on Russia to be transparent with military drills which have alarmed Poland, the Baltics and Ukraine.
Militarisation of Belarus by Russia
Belarus, a Russian ally, is located on Russia’s western border standing between Russia and the NATO military alliance and the European Union.
William Alberque, Director of Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Policy of the International Institute for Strategic Studies(IISS), says that while military budgets in most states in eastern Europe declined until 2014, “ Russia has been busy militarising its territory near eastern Europe, especially since 2012.”
By modernising its military, today, Russia is capable of carrying out conventional warfare as seen in the annexation of Crimea and its military intervention in the Syrian Civil War - which exemplify how Moscow uses military tools to pursue its policy goals.
“Russia and Belarus have full military cooperation, and under the Union State Treaty, Russia guarantees Belarus’ security,” Alberque said and he sees “signs of a new emerging Cold War between east and west.”
“Russia has been building its own buffer zone around its borders, and those countries without NATO membership seem to come under pressure if they refuse to align with Russia.”
Alberque sees Russia’s actions as a crucial factor for future relations with NATO by underlining Russia’s refusal to meet in the NATO-Russia Council since 2019.
“What Russia wants is a privileged sphere of influence around its borders, and it increasingly is using military and political tension – instrumentalising risk – to coerce its neighbours.”
The political and military pressure by Moscow means “some of Russia’s neighbours will continue to seek to increase their security through improving their military capabilities and aligning with NATO,” Alberque added.
Alberque thinks Belarus’ recent actions – its crackdown on protestors, locking up opposition politicians, muzzling its press, and now trying to “weaponise” migration against Lithuania and Poland – will further unify the EU in standing up to Lukashenko and sanctioning his regime.
“So I believe Lukashenko’s actions harm Belarus’ interests in the medium and long-term,” he continued.
William Courtney, a former US Ambassador to Kazakhstan and Georgia and served as special assistant to former US President Bill Clinton for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, spoke to us about Russia’s behaviour with its neighbors.
Courtney said: “In Belarus, there are concerns that the Lukashenko leadership is reversing its previous opposition to the establishment of a Russian air base and is allowing the stationing of more Russian weaponry and military personnel on its territory as one of its responses to rising democratic political opposition in the country and the regime’s increased dependence on Moscow.”
He says Russia is putting more arms and soldiers into Belarus to bring it under tighter Russian control and to “intimidate members of NATO”, especially those on its eastern flank such as Poland and the Baltics.
US military aid to Ukraine
US President Joe Biden told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on September 3 that the United States was "firmly committed" to Ukraine's territorial integrity and offered Kyiv $60 million in new security aid as it grapples with aggression from Moscow.
"The United States remains firmly committed to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression," Biden said at the beginning of a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart in the Oval Office.
"Today we're going to discuss how the US can continue to support Ukraine as it advances its democratic reforms agenda," Biden said.
A day after the meeting, the Kremlin raised its opposition towards the US military assistance because it could make Kyiv behave unpredictably and dangerously. Moscow also expressed that the friendship between Washington and Kyiv is motivated by opposition to Russia.
Retired ambassador Courtney, who was deputy US negotiator in the US-Soviet Defense and Space Talks during the Cold War, sees the US aid to Ukraine as a deterrent against Russian aggression.
The US, together with NATO, “will continue to assist Ukraine to deter further aggression, and to deploy stronger forces in its eastern flank to deter potential aggression against the Alliance,” Courtney said.
He believes tensions will only grow and said “a ‘modern Cold War’ will come only if Russian military threats grow.”
When we asked Alberque about the US military aid to Ukraine, he responded that “a situation where one side is unable to defend themselves, and the other has almost unlimited resources – as we see in the face-off between Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists – is inherently destabilising.”
On the other hand, Alberque saw the provision of defensive weapon systems to Ukraine by the US and other allies “may in fact be stabilising and reduce the risks of renewed large-scale conflict.”
The US, NATO, and other partner countries’ support for Ukraine “does not threaten Russia, but rather improves Ukraine’s ability to defend itself,” he continued.