Russian Air Base in Belarus will be created a year after the planned deadline. What is more, it is going to be located further to the east from the Polish border. It is believed that one of the reasons for such change is the fact that the Russians fear the JASSM missiles, which are soon to be a part of the inventory of the Polish F-16 fighters.
According to the statement of the Russian Air Force commander, general Viktor Bondarev, 24 Russian Su-27 fighters are to be stationed in Belorussian city of Babruysk in 2016. Earlier these jets were to be deployed to Baranovichi AB. Both locations are 200 km apart.
The Russians did not publish the official reason for change in their plans, nevertheless, several hypotheses are plausible. Three of the most important ones are mentioned in “Salidarnasts” Belorussian newspaper by a defence analyst, Alexander Alesin. In his opinion the sudden change of the Russian plans is mainly caused by the Polish efforts aiming at acquisition of the JASSM missiles.
Babruysk has been selected due to military reasons. Firstly, this city is located east of Baranovichi, hence it will be further away, harder to reach by the cruise missiles which are to be acquired by the Polish Air Force. It will be located further away from potential threat.
JASSM cruise missiles are capable of striking targets at ranges of “beyond the ranges of 370 km”, as stated by Lockheed Martin, who is the missile manufacturer. Detailed technical data of this armament has not yet been fully revealed but we see that even an option of acquisition of these missiles by Poland is considered to have an impact on the Russian plans. Decision on change of location of the Belarus-located Russian AB has been taken a few weeks after Poland confirmed the procurement of the new weapon. Babruysk AB is located over 400 km from the Polish border and almost 250 km from the previous location in Baranovichi.
The second reason indicated by Alesin stems from certain organisational issues. Since Baranovichi is currently the main base of the Belorussian aviation, a need would occur to share it with the Russian forces. Large Russian forces, since Bondarev mentioned an aviation regiment consisting of two 12-fighter Su-27M3 squadrons. Meanwhile, Babruysk AB is not currently being used by the Belorussian AF. Besides that it has been a base which was to be used by the Tu-22 bombers, and it is large enough to accommodate more than one aviation regiment. That means that the Russian presence in Belarus may be significantly expanded – permanently or temporarily.
The third factor is placed within the politics. Next year presidential election is going to take place in Belarus. Alexandr Lukashenka probably does not want to have a permanent base of the Russian Forces within the Belorussian territory in that period. Not only is it related to the number of possible votes. The Belorussian president is surely concerned about the situation in Ukraine and the Russian activities in that region. He needs to find a critical balance in between dependence from Moscow and maintaining enough power. Hence the date change regarding the start of functioning of the Russian AB – the base will not become active until 2016.
Probably there is one more reason for making the deadline so late – the technical issues. Base has been periodically used by VVS last time in March this year, but permanent deployment of 24 fighters, along with air defence systems and auxiliary units needs the base to be at least refurbished within the scope of reconstructing the existing infrastructure. 2016 is a realistic deadline to execute the relevant works, but the first Russian units and fighters may appear in Babruysk much earlier.