On 21 June, Belarusian Defense Minister Andrei Ravkov announced new defense acquisitions for aircraft and armored personnel carriers (APCs) with Moscow and Beijing. Ravkov indicated that Minsk plans to purchase four combat trainer Yak-130 aircraft and 12 Su-30sm multirole fighters from Russia as well as several CS/VN3 light armored vehicles from China. While the Russian jets will be furnished over a period of three years the Chinese APCs were delivered to Belarus this Wednesday. This acquisition builds on a burgeoning Sino-Belorussian partnership on the eve of Zapad 2017.
While the most salient portion of these acquisitions, the Su-30sm fighters, will not be online for Zapad, the future of such increased defense cooperation is still contingent upon financing for the deal.
What is significant is the increased role of China in Belarus’ geo-strategic calculations. New reporting indicates that Chinese ships may soon join Russian vessels for naval exercises in the Baltic Sea in late June. Russian military cooperation with China is not especially novel. Naval forces from both countries drilled together in the South China Sea as recently as September 2016. For Belarus, however, the opening is part of a broader counter-balancing strategy—deepening ties with Beijing and diversifying from Moscow. In the run-up to Zapad 2017, Minsk is looking for additional great power friends.