Expert: Russia may deploy troops to Belarus after NATO demands rejection

Indrek Kannik.
Indrek Kannik. Source: ERR

The response to the rejection of Russian demands on NATO which were made clear this week could lead to Russia deploying military personnel in Belarus, one expert says.

Noting NATO member states' unanimity in the talks this week, Indrek Kannik, director of the International Center for Defense Studies (ICDS) gave an interview to ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Thursday night, which follows.

At the start of these talks a lot of criticism emerged to the effect that the West should not sit at the negotiating table with Russia. What has this week demonstrated? What did we have to gain from all this?

One of the things the West has had the upper hand on is that if Russia were to attack Ukraine, this would have been after some time, and the Ukrainians would be better prepared. 

Second, there has always been this attitude in all Western philosophy that we at least have to talk. As we can see, our biggest fears have not been realized, while the Russians have been addressed with a unanimous voice. 

While there may have been some slight embarrassment at first, when the Russians came out with their ultimatum, this was later overcome by the fact that, at least at the NATO-Russia talks, all the allies were in complete agreement.

What steps can we now expect from Russia? The Kremlin has made no secret of these talks in Moscow can not be satisfied?

It is clear that, when essentially call for NATO's disbanding, then if you are prepared to talk about certain technical issues, you are unlikely to be satisfied with it. What are Russia's choices? 

One option is to state that if we (i.e. Russia – ed.) can negotiate on technical issues, it will be a great victory for us and then play this out in this way politically. The second option is to commence with the aggression towards Ukraine, which is a great risk, but we cannot rule it out. The third involves intermediate options, which are also very risky for us (in the West – ed.), should Russia nevertheless be able to bring a significant presence of its forces into Belarus. This would complicate our security situation.

Could this be a realistic scenario, where Russia would actually deploy additional troops to Belarus, and could the West in principle be content with this as a type of compromise? In this case at least Russia will not invade Ukraine and at least NATO does not have to go to war?

I do not think the West will be happy with [the Belarus deployment] if that happens. In this situation, I think that from our point of view, in any case, an additional presence of NATO units in Estonia and the Baltic States is needed to improve our security position. Is this a realistic scenario? Yes, unfortunately. However, I believe that the dictator of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, who has managed to avoid such a scenario for decades, has not had the last word here, and although his position is much weaker now than it was, he will certainly continue to try to avoid [the deployment of Russian troops in his country].

What support does Ukraine really need at the moment, given the worst-case scenario ahead of it, and what support can Ukraine really count on?

There are three things here. Firstly, political support. This they pretty much have already. Second, the consequences for Russia must be made as severe as possible. This is so The sanctions should be economically as strong as possible, as well as militarily. Ukraine needs additional military support from the West.

But can't see that at the moment?

No, I believe that steps are being taken in that direction. We may not be kept informed about this all the time, but the steps are still happening, and I think that if Russia's aggression comes, they will accelerate.

Could the U.S. reaction so far have led the Kremlin to think that it is still worth going ahead, since this package of sanctions is more convincing this time than earlier?

We do not know exactly what the sanctions package is either, but at least it gives the impression that these are very strong sanctions.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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