Two weeks before the meeting between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden, Russia announced that it would build 20 new military bases near its European borders, aimed at containing what it calls the growing threat from NATO (military alliance led by the United States).
This decision comes against a backdrop of growing tension between the Kremlin and the West, which opens a new chapter in Putin’s support for Belarusian ally Alexander Lukashenko.
Last week, the dictator forced an Irish civilian plane to land in Minsk and arrested a journalist critical of the regime who was on the plane, along with his girlfriend.
The move was a culmination of the crackdown applied by Lukashenko since the protests that erupted in the country after another suspicious election won by him, in power since 1994, last August.
The European Union announced sanctions against Belarus, and Putin, after a week of suspense, met him on Friday (28). At the root of the Russian movement is the desire to consolidate its control over its neighbor, perhaps absorbing it into a planned unitary state that has been brewing since 1999.
Thus, a strategic buffer between Europe and Russia would be definitively established. Ukraine has played this role precariously since Putin amputated Crimea, otherwise an ethnic Russian region, and brought it under his control after losing an allied government in Kiev in 2014.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday (2) that the alliance was following joint military movements in Moscow and Minsk. He met British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who criticized the eastward travel. “If you look at what happened to the outrageous kidnapping in Belarus, I think NATO members will want to unite in protest,” he said.
The alliance issued a memo condemning recent measures taken by Belarus, but avoided indicating punishments or sanctions, as desired by Poland and the Baltic states, which are geographically more exposed to Russia. The Russian plan was laid out without too much detail by Minister Sergei Choigu (Defense) during a meeting with military leaders on Monday.
He said NATO has dramatically increased the number of hostile flights and shipments of warships to its borders. He pointed to the growing number of military exercises – in the last week alone, thousands of NATO troops have been training across the continent. The actions, according to Russian media, “destroy the international security system and force us to take appropriate countermeasures.” “We will train 20 new units in the Western Military District by the end of the year.
Based in St. Petersburg, the district joins the south with the two most important Russian land defense units. It covers the border from Finland to Ukraine, when it passes the baton to the south, which goes as far as the Caucasus and includes the Crimea. Together, the regions concentrated in the minority European part of Russia have six armies, each with around 100,000 or more men.
The rest of the world’s largest country, covered by three other districts, has six other armies and a joint air battle command in the north.
Choigu did not specify how many men would be sent to the area, citing only that around 2,000 military equipment would be involved.
The region has already seen a lot of action this year. Putin staged a show of force to make a dramatic increase, possibly 100,000 troops, in the western and southern regions for a three-week exercise aimed at deterring Ukraine from trying to invade the areas pro-Russian rebels in the east of the country.
The stalemate persists and the Russian has bared its teeth, but the forces have been withdrawn – leaving behind a large part of the armor and tanks, which will be used in the Russian forces’ annual mega-exercise, which according to the usual rotation , will take place in the region. . Zapad (West) 2021 promises a new point of tension with the West, just like its 2017 version. Although regular and planned, it includes Belarusian forces, which will add even more political spice to the maneuvers. The Kremlin maintains that they are only defensive in character, but few in the West believe this, despite plans to send observers.
To all of this is added the bellicose stance of Biden, who, after reaching a deal to extend the latest nuclear arms limitation treaty with Putin, has entered a growing collision course with the Kremlin. He called the Russian leader a murderer and imposed sanctions for the arrest of opponent Alexei Navalni after returning from Germany from treatment for poisoning in Siberia.
Biden’s real goal of going tough is China, which the American sees as the true strategic rival of the United States. But his actions have led Putin to remind the West of his capabilities, which threaten European interests, especially because they depend on Russian gas and oil.
Moreover, although historically a suspect alliance, Moscow and Beijing have drawn closer together, leading to speculation as to whether the protagonist of the First Cold War could join the American antagonist of the Cold War 2.0 in joint actions of destabilization. .
Known as some of the symbols of international power, Putin uses the announcement as an aperitif of his willingness to meet Biden on 16 in Geneva, organized at the request of the American.