Military expert Aliaksandr Alesin comments to Euroradio on Russia's move to deploy a regiment of fighter jets in Belarus.
Euroradio: Why have these plans to deploy Russian fighter jets in Belarus emerged?
Aliaksandr Alesin: Several months ago, Belarus Air Force Sukhoi 27 fighter jets were taken off alert. Sukhoi 24 attack aircraft had been removed from combat duty even earlier. All in all, approximately 50-60 warplanes were taken off alert, weakening significantly the Belarusian Air Force. A Su-27 costs around $35-50 million depending on modification. Belarus needs several billion dollars in order to renew its Air Force fleet. Clearly, this country cannot afford it. Russia is not ready to give away so many warplanes as a present to Belarus, either. Therefore, plans to deploy a Russian airbase in Belarus were predictable. The issue was discussed by independent experts for some time, while official Minsk has kept silence till today.
Euroradio: What does it mean to Belarus?
Aliaksandr Alesin: It means that part of Belarus' sovereignty will be lost. Obviously, Aliaksandr Lukashenka cannot agree to that free of charge. In exchange, Russia will provide loans or some other benefits and preferences. This fits into a usual model of Belarus-Russia relations: miltary strategic preferences in exchange for economic benefits.
Euroradio: Why does Russia need to deploy an aviation regiment in Belarus rather than in neighboring Russia's Smolensk or Bryansk provinces? The difference in the range seems to be irrelevant for a fighter jet.
Aliaksandr Alesin: It is all about how quickly you can respond. The distance between Poland and Moscow is small. The earlier a fighter jet takes off to intercept a bomber or a missile, it is the better. By taking off from the Belarusian territory, a fighter jet can intercept a hostile target with a longer-range missile already over the Polish territory. By deploying an airbase in Belarus, Russian pilots can have additional 10-15 minutes. This is quite a lot. Therefore, the air defense in Belarus is reinforced by Russia to ensure that Moscow-bound targets do not reach there as much as possible. Naturally, there will be other airbases around Moscow on the Russian territory. But it is always safer to have several defense lines. The military always try to engage with the adversary as much away from their own territory as possible.
Euroradio: Belarus a buffer zone?
Aliaksandr Alesin: Yes. That's awlays been like that. This is a traditional policy of Russian emperiors and Soviet Communist party leaders. Moscow is badly located from the strategic point of view. It is too close to the Western border. That's why Russia has always tried to move the border as far away from Moscow as possible.
Euroradop: What aircraft types will be deployed at the Russian airbase, in your opinion?
Aliaksandr Alesin: I think Su-30 or Su 27SM will be deployed, because they are all-purpose and can carry air-to-surface missiles, bombs and other precise weapons if necessary. These warplanes can also destroy aerial targets. I think Su-30 jets are most likely to be deployed there. They are two-seaters, carrying a pilot and a weaponry operator.
Euroradio: Where could this base be located?
Aliaksandr Alesin: Тhere is a sufficient number of runways: Byaroza, Baranavichy, Babruisk or Ros. There are enough vacant airbases in Belarus. There is even one near Minsk in Machulischy.
Euroradio: How will the deployment of Russian warplanes in Belarus affect the development of Belarus Air Force?
Aliaksander Alesin: Belarus Air Force will play a secondary role. The jets, commissioned with Belarus Air Force, were manufactured in 1970-80s. The Russian military aviation is constantly upgraded and will be play a major role in Belarus. Belarus Air Force will be used for aerial support to ground troops. Aviation is extremely expensive to maintain. Belarus simply cannot afford it.