On November 28, members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) kicked off annual large-scale drills to test the capabilities of their joint air defense network. “The exercises involve air defense and air force units from Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine,” explained spokesman Colonel Alexei Zolotukhin. More than 9,000 personnel, 130 command posts of various levels, about 160 electronic warfare units and 100 aircraft, including A-50 AWACS planes, took part in the exercises.
Pictured above: Russian MiG-29 fighter jets.
The CIS drills are designed to improve the combat capabilities and interoperability of the units protecting the CIS airspace. The Russian Aerospace Defense Forces coordinates the drills from headquarters outside Moscow. The CIS set up an integrated air defense network in 1995, the main purposes of which are to protect member-state airspace, issue early warnings of missile attacks, and coordinate joint efforts to neutralize potential airborne threats. Although news reports did not specifically mention the CIS’ mutual defense pact, known as the Collective Security Treaty Organization, this drill was presumably carried out under the stipulations of the CSTO.
The air defense networks of Russia and Belarus are particularly well integrated under the aegis of the Union State. During the CIS exercise, Belarusian air defense troops destroyed all imaginary aggressors, including Russian strategic bombers that pretended to attack the former Soviet republic. This particular scenario involved units of Belarus’ air defense missile troops and radio warfare troops, as well as crews of Belarusian and Russian aircraft. A Russian Air Force A-50 radar surveillance plane (NATO designation Mainstay) participated in the exercise, landing at Belarus’ Baranovichi airfield.
Meanwhile, Belarusian troops travelled to Red China and the Arabian Peninsula for joint exercises. In the first case, during a 12-day exercise ending on December 7, airborne troops from Belarus and Red China will carry out assorted drills, expanding on cooperative skills learned during the two countries’ first combined mission in Belarus in 2011. Although Minsk does not belong to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, SCO members Russia and Red China have carried out a number of high-profile “anti-terrorism” exercises since 2005 that look more like preparations for war with NATO.
In the second case, the Belarusian military joined the multinational exercise Ferocious Falcon 2012 , which took place in Qatar between November 4 and 22. The drill involved the delivery of international aid in crisis situations, the alleviation of consequences of catastrophes involving weapons of mass destruction, as well as responding to terrorist attacks. The Belarusian contingent included 70 troops, including air force and air defense troops, radiation, chemical and biological warfare protection troops, engineer troops, and special operations medical personnel. During the active phase of Ferocious Falcon, Belarusian special forces used unmanned aerial vehicles to perform counterterrorism warfare. Other participants were Greece, Spain, Lebanon, Jordan, Pakistan, and Algeria.
Although the Communist Party of Belarus has retreated from the public monopoly of power, long-ruling President Alexander Lukashenko openly praises Soviet dictators Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. The former Soviet republic still has a centrally planned economy, necessitating a US$1 billion bailout from Communist China in 2011, viciously persecutes dissidents under the iron fist of the State Security Committee (KGB), and officially observes the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Post-Soviet Belarus is a de facto communist country that lives under Russia’s diplomatic and nuclear umbrellas.