Russia Picks Location For Air Base In Belarus, While Negotiations With Minsk Continue
Russia has settled on a location for its planned air base in Belarus scheduled to start operating next year, the head of the air force has said.
The base will be located in Baranovichi, in western Belarus, said Lieutenant General Viktor Bondarev. “We will set up a base in Baranovichi. We are only waiting for an intergovernmental agreement to be signed,” he said.
The base will host Russian Su-27 aircraft, four of which were deployed to Baranovichi in December. But it hadn't been clear where the base would ultimately be located. When Russian officials announced plans for the base last summer they said it would be at a base in Lida; by November they were saying that "several potential locations have been identified in Belarus, but that further consultations were needed with the neighboring former Soviet nation's authorities."
"We never planned this in Lida, everything will be in Baranovichi," Bondarev said Monday, despite the fact that it was Bondarev himself who had originally identified Lida as the site.
Anyway, this is a relatively minor step in the process, the real drama is likely going on behind the scenes as the two sides work out the "intergovernmental agreement." In December, Moscow's ambassador to Minsk admitted that "these things don't happen for free." Some Belarussians have been disgruntled about the base's establishment, seeing it as an infringement of Belarus's sovereignty. And Belarus has been uncomfortable going along with Russia's newly assertive foreign policy -- most recently, it refused to go along with Russia's food import ban, which as a member of the free trade Customs Union could be a big chink in the sanctions' armor. So the negotiations are no doubt not going to be easy.