Keeping gunpowder dry

Minsk hosts the Council of Defence Ministers of the Commonwealth of Independent States
By Dmitry Vasiliev

Minsk is becoming ever more a centre for substantive discussions on integration. Following close on the heels of the Council of CIS Heads of Government and the Forum of Businessmen, Minsk has hosted the CIS Council of Defence Ministers.

The President met the heads of delegations before the Council began its work, noting, “We pay special importance to each event which helps strengthen the authority of our integration association and further develop co-operation among state-participants in all spheres.” Issues of defence and national security are, naturally, of great importance. The President added, “Bearing in mind today’s difficult geopolitical situation worldwide, this area of integration is of particular importance for state stability and the sustainable development of the Commonwealth.”

Belarus supports the further all-round development of the Commonwealth, strengthening its defence capability and authority: a position shared by many heads of state considering integration. The President emphasised, “Whether we like it or not, life forces us to work closely within the framework of military organisations. Some may not seek a tight embrace, as in the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, while others wish to be more independent. Nevertheless, world events push us towards closer military co-operation.”

Of course, co-operation between Belarus and Russia is a good example. Mr. Lukashenko explained, “We have created practically a single army so, if something happens, we are absolutely united and we know what to do. We aren’t afraid, having co-operated this way for decades, and we have not lost any independence... We, Belarusians and Russians, don’t have any secrets from each other. If we don’t manage to achieve anything (Russia also has problems, we know) we simply ask Russia to note what is going on in Belarus. We ask Russia to supply the new weapons being used in the Russian army. We have the right to act in a unified manner, as equal partners with Russians in our common defence space.”

The President expressed his hopes that CIS integration will start to move more rapidly — at least reaching the level of the CSTO. The Russian Defence Minister, Sergey Shoigu, who heads the CIS Council of Defence Ministers, added that much work lies ahead to attain the required level of security within the CIS. He called the meeting itself a landmark event in the development of close partnerships in the military sphere.

Last year, the CIS Council of Defence Ministers — a high level inter-governmental body — celebrated its 20th anniversary. The Minsk meeting, held in the President Hotel, was the 64th, showing that ministers meet several times a year. Issues vary widely — from organising joint exercises and developing promising weapon systems to sharing of military health care and humanitarian aid.

Russian Defence Minister Mr. Shoigu opened the meeting, as its Chair, but gave the first word to his Belarusian counterpart, Yury Zhadobin, who outlined the concept of our country’s presidency of the CIS. He spoke of peaceful tasks, but noted that the military sphere is a component of integration, with priorities defined by the concerns of friendly countries regarding sudden complications in the global geopolitical situation. Hot spots are coming ever closer to CIS borders. Mr. Zhadobin noted the need to set up mechanisms to counter such threats.

Over 20 issues were debated, including the further development of a joint air defence system, the use of satellite communications for military purposes, interaction of engineering corps in the field of mine clearance and monitoring of ammunition. It was decided to hold joint military exercises for air defence forces under the slogan Combat Commonwealth 2013. In addition, out of date (yet still live) ammunition is to be placed in landfill sites in Russia and Kazakhstan and an international competition for the professional military is planned: Warriors of the Commonwealth.

Being well-prepared, the ministers completed their work efficiently, as Mr. Zhadobin noted, adding that decisions had been made collectively, with attention paid to air defence troops. He stressed, “We’d like to see the boundaries of the Commonwealth properly protected.”

Answering reporters, Mr. Shoigu mentioned that Russia and Belarus are moving in a given direction regarding the placement of an air base, with no disagreements. A site is yet to be decided, but the Russian minister emphasised that all agreements will be the result of joint work.
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