Belarus is a key country for the Kremlin's military plans.
Former Polish defense minister Romuald Sheremetiev said in an interview to Charter97.org that the Russian-Belarusian military exercises West-2017 might become a stage of the occupation of Belarus for further actions in the west direction.
– The Russian-Belarussian exercises West-2017 are at hand. Ukraine and the Baltic countries are concerned about the Russian military maneuvers near their borders. The NATO Secretary General also said that the Alliance intends to keep a close eye on the maneuvers. What kind of danger, in your opinion, do the West-2017 exercises carry for the region?
– What worries me the most is that, if we talk about the intensity of these exercises, they have been going on for a long time. Russians bring a huge number of soldiers and military equipment. And every time the army performs military exercises, the question arises: why is this done? After all, such exercises require large expenditures, and the leaders of states always have their own reasons to take such a decision.
The situation is as follows: firstly, we have long noticed that the Russian side has taken for the practice not to inform the opposite side, especially the NATO countries, of holding such exercises. Secondly, when the exercises begin, it comes to the point that military observers from other countries cannot participate in them. Thirdly, we do not have access to the exercise scenario. Therefore, it is not known what the Russian troops are exactly doing.
I have a feeling that Russia is forcing us (the NATO member states, – Edit.) to get used to this fact. Saying that they are just conducting exercises, nothing else, this is the norm and it will always be like that.
And what will happen if Russia comes up with a military operation with soldiers participating in the exercises? For example, in the Baltic States? This will be a complete surprise for us. I think this is the goal pursued by the exercises conducted by Russia.
– There is an opinion that after the exercises, Russia might leave part of the soldiers and military equipment on the territory of Belarus. Some experts suggest that Belarus may be occupied under the guise of the exercises.
– Considering that Russia plans to practice offensive operations at the borders of Ukraine, the Baltic countries and Poland, Belarus, as a place where military operations might begin, is a key and very important territory. After all, anyone who intends to conduct a military operation must guarantee full control over the territory where forces and equipment are deployed. Otherwise, there might be surprises. Therefore, taking Belarus under full control is obvious.
This will become a signal after the West-2017 exercises are over: whether the Russians have stayed "accidentally" in Belarus and whether the country is under Russia’s full control.
– What should the West and NATO do in such a situation?
– The problem is that it is not known how far the Russians might go. Therefore, the land forces of the USA and other countries were deployed in Poland and the Baltic States. In addition, NATO is keeping a close eye on what is going on and will react if, God forbid, something happens.