CSTO Military Exercises to Take Place in Belarus
The Collective Security Treaty Organization’s (CSTO) Unbreakable Brotherhood military exercises are scheduled to take place on October 12-16 in Belarus. Despite mass protests following the reelection of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on August 9, the CSTO will still hold military exercises in the country involving its member states – Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. The spokesperson for Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Defense Ghani Nusipov stated that the decision to hold the exercises in Belarus were made on November 8, 2018 by the CSTO’s Council of Defense Ministers and the Committee of Secretaries of the CSTO Security Councils and have no relation to the current political situation in Belarus.
The CSTO’s Unbreakable Brotherhood exercises will follow the Slavic Brotherhood drills held from September 14-25 between Russia and Belarus. The 2020 Slavic Brotherhood exercises, which have been held yearly since 2015, took place near Grodno and included more than 900 people and 100 pieces of military equipment on the Russian side.
Serbia has traditionally taken part in the annual exercises, but the day before participants were scheduled to arrive in Belarus, Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin announced that Serbia would be suspending all international military exercises for six months due to pressure from the European Union (EU). Despite traditionally close relations with Russia and Belarus, Serbia also endorsed an August 11 joint EU-U.S. statement which called the Belarusian elections “neither free nor fair” and criticized the Belarusian government’s violent actions against protestors.
With the Slavic Brotherhood 2020 exercises beginning on September 14, the same day that President Lukashenko met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, and the CSTO’s decision to continue its October exercise in Belarus, Russia indicates that it does not intend to loosen its grip. The significance of such large drills in Belarus during a time of political unrest suggest that a show of force from the Russian military aims to demonstrate that Russia possesses, and will use, hard power resources if needed to support its objectives in Belarus and help Lukashenko remain in power. Although Russian threats communicated through military exercises are not new, this is the first time that mass protests have been sustained in Belarus. The CSTO’s choice to execute the Unbreakable Brotherhood exercises in October is a clear signal to the protesters and their leaders. Russia is showing the international community and the other members of the CSTO that Russia is will not stand passively in the face of threats to its self-proclaimed sphere of influence as it did during the NATO expansion period of the 1990s and early 2000s. The implicit threat of these exercises is that, if another CSTO member should distance themselves, Russia might respond similarly.
Joint military exercises occur regularly in security organizations, and all CSTO members are also part of NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP). A collective security organization such as NATO’s PfP, of which Russia and Belarus are partners, has the ability to respond to Russian demonstrations of force. Through encouraging PfP members to disavow Russia’s decision to proceed with military drills in Belarus and not participate in the upcoming CSTO exercises, the Western security community would present a firm stance against Russian threats.