MOSCOW, November 29 (RIA Novosti) – A senior Russian defense official said Friday that talks will be held next month on the planned deployment of an airbase in Belarus.
Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov told reporters in Moscow that several potential locations have been identified in Belarus, but that further consultations were needed with the neighboring former Soviet nation's authorities.
The airbase would be Russia’s first on Belarusian territory in modern times and would consolidate defense cooperation under the auspices of the Union State of Russia and Belarus, defense officials in Moscow have said.
“In addition, we are working on the placement of a Russian fighter jet unit on alert duty at a Belarusian airbase. We will finish this work soon,” Antonov said.
Plans for the airbase come amid continued irritation in Moscow over combat air patrols from NATO members states Latvia and Lithuania, which lie near Belarus, wandering into areas close to Russian airspace.
European defense officials have bristled at evidence of Russia’s increased military deployments close to NATO’s border, arguing that it fuels tension with former Communist bloc countries in Central Europe and the Baltic States.
But Antonov said Russian-Belarus defense ties comprised a legitimate effort to ensure a solid defense for the countries’ Union State.
Moscow and Minsk signed an agreement on the joint protection of the Union State's airspace and the creation of an integrated regional air defense network in February 2009.
The network reportedly comprises five air force units, 10 air defense units, five technical service and support units, and one electronic warfare unit.
It is part of the integrated air defense network of the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose alliance comprising nine post-Soviet nations.