Belarus fails to provide explanations of military exercise “Union Resolve-2022” to the Baltic States at OSCE meeting
At an OSCE meeting on 14 February, initiated by the Baltic States under the OSCE’s risk reduction mechanisms, Belarus failed to provide Latvia with the requested information on military exercise “Union Resolve-2022” (“Союзная решимость-2022”).
France, which currently holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union, expressed its support for the steps taken by the Baltic States to de-escalate the crisis, using the opportunities provided by the Vienna Document. The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Ukraine, Turkey and Switzerland also expressed their support, stressing the importance of political and diplomatic efforts in the current security situation.
The response received from Belarus on 11 February did not answer the Baltic States’ questions on the large-scale military activities, and they therefore requested the OSCE to convene a special consultation meeting in Vienna on 14 February, inviting other interested OSCE participating States to attend. Whilst Belarus attended the meeting, Russia did not. Russia also failed to declare its participation in large-scale military exercises with Belarus. Regrettably, although Belarus attended the 14 February consultation meeting, again there was no explanation given of the extent of the ongoing military exercise, the armaments systems involved, the time when Russian Armed Forces plan to return to their original locations in Russia, and other aspects of concern and insecurity to not only the Baltic States, but also to other OSCE participating States.
Belarus simply repeated general information already provided on the ongoing military activities on its territory, and reiterated that the training did not exceed 13,000 troops. However, it is undeniable that publicly available information, announcements by high-level officials of both Belarus and Russia, as well as other information available to the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Latvia, clearly indicates that the number of soldiers and the amount of military equipment involved are significantly higher than Belarus claims.
Belarus also denied that it should inform other OSCE participating States of these activities, as required by the Vienna Document, and refused to answer questions posed by the Baltic States and other OSCE participating states. Belarus assessed the Vienna Document and its mechanism as unfriendly and escalatory, contrary to what the Baltic States and other OSCE participating States have declared – that the Document is a mechanism for consultation, co-operation and risk prevention.
The Baltic States now intend to take the next step within the framework of the risk reduction mechanism set out in the Vienna Document, and to convene a political meeting in Vienna, at ambassadorial level, of all OSCE participating States in the near future.
It has already been reported that large-scale military exercise “Union Resolve-2022” runs from 10 to 20 February, raising serious security concerns in the Baltic States, which requested information about the exercise from Belarus. It should be noted that Ukraine has also asked Russia to explain its military activities, using the mechanism set out in the Vienna Document. Russia refused.
Whilst Russia and Belarus have used the pretext of Covid-19 to suspend arms control activities, thus circumventing their arms control commitments, the challenges of the pandemic have not prevented them from concentrating very large numbers of troops. Furthermore, neither country has provided any plausible explanation of their military activities.
In the context of these exercises, Belarus, like Russia, is taking a selective approach to its arms control obligations. Latvia reiterates that such a selective approach to arms control measures is unacceptable, and emphasizes the importance of openness and the full implementation of arms control treaties and commitments. In order to ensure international peace and security, states must fully respect their international obligations and treaties, including their arms control commitments.