Deployment Of S-400 Missiles & F-35 Stealth Jets, Eurofighter Typhoons Adds A Strategic Twist To Ukraine Conflict

Amid the Ukraine crisis, Russia’s S-400 Missile Defense Systems have arrived in Belarus, where they will be assigned to combat duty as part of an integrated air defense plan. 

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“S-400 Triumf anti-aircraft missile systems of the Eastern Military District’s Air Force and Air Defense Army involved in an inspection of the Union State’s Response Force have arrived in Belarus,” the Russian Defense Ministry said

Russia and Belarus had in 1999 inked a Union State treaty for the potential integration of the two neighbors. Last year, they signed another agreement providing for a total of 28 integration “programs”, including a joint military doctrine.

As part of the latest exercise, the soldiers will march on their vehicles from the unloading site to an unfamiliar training ground in the Brest Region, according to the ministry. The Russian teams of S-400 surface-to-air missile launchers will activate a combat alert after their arrival at their training locations, the ministry said. 

s-400 Missile
File Image: S-400 Missile

In January 2021, the Defense Ministry announced that two S-400 air missile defense divisions will be dispatched to Belarus to test the Unified Regional Air Defense System’s combat readiness, as well as to conduct joint military exercises.

The integrated air defense system of the Union State will be tested in two stages. In the first stage, troops will be redeployed to Belarusian territory to organize the defense of vital state and military facilities until February 9. The air defense forces’ readiness to protect Belarusian key infrastructure will also be assessed.

In the second phase, the Union Courage 2022 joint exercises will take place from February 10 to 20, with the goal of “suppressing and repelling external aggression during a defensive operation, as well as countering terrorism and protecting the interests of the Union State”.

An Attempt To Encircle Ukraine?

Western countries are concerned that Russia, which has amassed tens of thousands of troops close to the Ukraine border, is plotting a new attack on the country after the 2014 annexation, but Moscow dismisses such apprehension. Lithuania, which shares a border with Belarus, has also stated that the presence of Russian troops poses a security risk to the country.

The drills, dubbed “Allied Resolve,” are aimed at “developing new possibilities for jointly neutralizing threats and stabilizing the situation on the frontiers”, Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said last month. 

The mobilization of Russian weapons and soldiers throughout Belarus could result in Ukraine being encircled on three sides. Despite Russia’s claims that the deployments are part of military drills, the buildup in Belarus could escalate tensions.

Meanwhile, Kyiv’s majority of forces are currently concentrated in the country’s eastern borders, where the Russian-backed separatists have been waging war for eight years. Military experts and Ukrainian generals believe the government will struggle to gather the soldiers required to protect its northern border.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has also expressed alarm on February 3 about Russia’s continued military build-up around Ukraine, calling the Russian presence in Belarus as the largest since the Cold War.

Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov earlier claimed that Russia’s presence in Belarus is becoming a huge security threat to the country, stating that “as a result of Russia taking control over Belarus, 1,070 kilometers of our border with Belarus became a threat.”

Potential Face-Off Between F-35 & S-400

As tensions rise, western countries are bringing weapons and military hardware into the region to deter a potential Russian invasion. The S-400 deployment in Belarus is also quite close to the NATO allies Poland and Lithuania, as well as its southern flank with Ukraine. 

To counter Russian armored tanks, Ukraine is already equipped with American-made Javelin anti-tank rockets. Western countries have placed troops “on standby” and are sending ships and jets to shore up Eastern Europe’s defenses. 

Denmark will send a frigate to the Baltic Sea and four F-16 fighter jets to Lithuania to reinforce NATO’s long-standing air-policing operation in the region. Spain is deploying ships to NATO’s naval forces and may dispatch fighter jets to Bulgaria. France has stated that it is willing to deploy troops to Romania under NATO command.

File Image: F-35 Stealth Fighters

Spain dispatched six Eurofighter jets to Mihail Kogălniceanu airbase near the Romanian city of Constanta in February 2021 and now offered to send more jets to deter a potential Russian incursion. 

The Netherlands is deploying two of its F-35 stealth fighter aircraft to Bulgaria from April as well as ship and land-based units for NATO’s Response Force. Poland and other European countries could also dispatch their F-35s as Ukraine is within their operational range. 

In other words, Russia’s much-touted S-400 air defense system will have its task cut out if US and NATO start deploying advanced fighter jets such as F-35 and Eurofighter Typhoon to thwart a potential invasion of Ukraine.