National security and defence of Belarus (April 2021)

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The most important events of the month. In April, Aliaksandr Lukashenka announced the disclosure of a “conspiracy” aimed at his physical elimination. He accused the US authorities of involvement in these insidious plans.

Initially, the versions of what happened, announced by the Belarusian authorities, had a number of inconsistencies. Which did not allow to considere them as true. As the whole story acquired new “details”, it became obvious that this was not a real threat, but a propaganda “strike”. It was based on certain developments of the Belarusian special services.

In addition to the events that happened, the events that did not happen are also important.

Nothing is reported about the board of the State Military Industry Committee (SMIC), dedicated to the results of the SMIC enterprises in the first quarter of this year. The event was traditionally held in April. It cannot be ruled out that it did take place, but this year SMIC chose not to advertise the event due to not the most positive results of its activities.

Already after the publication of the Russian-language version of this material in the public domain (May 14 at 1:27 AM), on the same day in the daytime, information about the SMIC board for the 1st quarter of 2021 was posted on the SMIC website. The results of the work are generally positive. Although it is not possible to draw a conclusion when exactly the collegium took place.

Also in April Lukashenka’s traditional address to the National Assembly did not take place. Moreover, nothing has been reported about the time frame for it. While this is a right of a head of state, not an obligation, political tradition makes this ritual mandatory.

The main reason for the cancellation / postponement of Lukashenka’s address is the uncertainty of the political future of the Belarusian ruler himself in the light of the constitutional reform in Belarus, inadvertently initiated by him in from of Putin in September 2020. It is highly probable that at the moment there are two concepts of this reform: by Lukashenka, in which he has a certain political future in the new system; by Kremlin, which provides no political future for the Belarusian. The question which of them will become the final one, is at the centre of the current stage of the Belarusian-Russian relations.

The developments within the month. On April 6, 2021, Lukashenka chaired a meeting on the work of the Belarusian embassies abroad. He voiced the need to optimize the structure of foreign missions based on the nature of political and economic ties with a particular host country. Initially, observers perceived this as a threat to reduce the level of diplomatic ties between the Belarusian regime and European countries. However, later it was announced that no reduction in the network of embassies in the EU countries was planned. But the redistribution of personnel between different Belarusian embassies is not ruled out based on the prospects for the development of trade and economic cooperation.

On April 13, 2021 State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Aliaksandr Valfovich met with the Secretary of the Security Council under the President of Uzbekistan Viktor Makhmudov. The parties discussed the problems of security and bilateral cooperation on a wide range of issues. No details was reported. But it can be assumed that part of the agenda is cooperation in the field of the military-industrial complex, training for the Uzbek law enforcement agencies officers in Belarus, the fight against transnational organized crime.

On April 15, 2021, it was announced that a joint Belarusian-Russian air defence combat duty would begin this summer at one of the airfields in Belarus. We have devoted a special article to this event.

In April Lukashenka paid a visit to Azerbaijan. The agenda of the event is not completely clear: no significant agreements were recorded during it. Within the framework of the visit, on April 15, 2021, a meeting of the SMIC delegation met with the Minister of Defence of Azerbaijan, Colonel-General Zakir Hasanov. The parties discussed the current state and prospects for the development of military-technical cooperation between the two countries and other issues of mutual interest.

On April 19, 2021, the Minister of Defence of Belarus Viktar Khrenin met with the Ambassador of China Xie Xiaoyong. The parties discussed the main areas of bilateral military cooperation, identified further ways to intensify the main areas of interaction in joint combat training and military education.

On April 19-30, in the Mahiliou region, the second stage of checking the Territorial Defence system (hereinafter referred to as TD) of the region took place. It was planned to assess the mobilization readiness of territorial troops and the ability of officials to manage maintenance, assess the state of stocks of materiel intended for maintenance and storage conditions, and increase the level of competence of local authorities responsible for territorial defence.

On April 27, 2021, a meeting of the Council of Defence Ministers of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (hereinafter referred to as the CSTO) was held.

It is reported about the discussion of cooperation between the CSTO states in the military sphere, the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking, the strengthening of the Tajik-Afghan border, the development of a mechanism for ensuring biological security against the background of COVID-19 pandemic. It was announced that negative processes in the sphere of ensuring military security are growing, and the architecture of international security has been broken.

The Plan of equipping the Collective Rapid Reaction Forces (hereinafter referred to as the CRRF) with modern weapons, military and special equipment, and special means was approved. The standard structure and staff of the CSTO CRRF command have been approved. It will be formed on the basis of the Command of the Russian Airborne Forces or the Command of the Land Forces of Kazakhstan (when the CRRF is used on the territory of this country).

The prosecutor’s office continues its activities to counter protests against the Belarusian regime. Thus, in Minsk, meetings with doctors were held. The prosecutors “… using examples of criminal proceedings against the leaders of protest actions” explained the doctors possible consequences after demonstrating civic position. In the Mahiliou region, prosecutors met with local workers. The workers listened a lecture on repressive innovations in legislation in relation to opponents of the regime.

Among the events of army combat training that took place in April, it’s necessary to underline the following:

— A training in missile strike control with the 336th rocket artillery brigade, during which one of the divisions made a march of 400 km and trained the preparation and delivery of group and single missile strikes. Although it is not officially reported what kind of weapons were used (MLRS “Smerch” or “Polonaise”), with a reasonable degree of confidence it can be assumed that here we can speak about the usage of “Polonaise” MLRS.

— A battalion tactical exercise with reserve servicemen called up for training in the 72nd training centre was held. It involved more than 550 people and over 100 pieces of weapons and equipment. For the exercise, about 1,000 targets were set up at the training ground.

— An exercise of reconnaissance units of one of the mechanized brigades, during which the troops trained issues of target detection and destruction in real time.

Conclusions. Considering that the Kremlin is the only legitimizer of Lukashenka as a ruler in the eyes of the Belarusian bureaucracy (including the security forces), it is dangerous for the Belarusian ruler to ignore Moscow’s position or enter the open conflict with it. The latter is fraught with destabilization of the entire system of public administration, which is far from being in the best shape.

The story of the conspiracy against Lukashenka is a performance for one viewer, Vladimir Putin. The Belarusian regime is trying to parasitize on the exacerbation of US-Russian relations. The goal is to demonstrate the commonality of external danger for the Kremlin and Lukashenka. In order to persuade the former to make concessions in favour of the latter. Obviously, the existing contradictions in Belarusian-Russian relations are so serious that Minsk decided to take a desperate step, playing a dramatic plot of the allegedly Washington-inspired coup in Belarus. However, the drama quickly turned into an outright booth. It is unlikely to contribute to softening the Kremlin’s position on the issues of Lukashenka’s interest. Which is the future architecture of the power-political system of Belarus, where there may simply be no place for Lukashenka at any position.

Of the 6 participants in the April meeting dedicated to the network of Belarusian missions abroad, only two are not generals. 3 of the 4 generals are from the special services. Obviously, any decision to optimize foreign diplomatic missions (the number of their personnel) will be made on the basis of operational interest and the availability of intelligence capabilities in a particular country. There is nothing unusual about this. But the disclosure of information in this form in the public domain is an invitation for foreign counterintelligence services to pay increased/aggressive attention to the personnel of Belarusian embassies.

At the same time, it cannot be ruled out that this meeting is an attempt to play out the old scheme “pro-Western Uladzimir Makei is waging an unequal battle with retrograde generals”, which has been used for many years in relations with the West the Belarusian regime. Naturally, in order for Makei not to lose this imaginary struggle to the collective State Security Committee, Western countries were asked to remove the issues of human rights and democracy in Belarus from the agenda in relations until the complete victory of the mythical pro-Western party in the Belarusian nomenclature.

Speaking about the prospect of a joint Belarusian-Russian air defence duty, the beginning of which was announced for the summer of this year, it is necessary to clarify a couple of things. Although the most probable is the duty of fighter aircraft in the format that was previously practiced in 2013-2015, one cannot exclude the expansion of the duty with the use of Russian anti-aircraft missile systems and radio equipment. It can be covered by the previously announced plans to create a joint Belarusian-Russian training and combat centre in the Hrodna region of Belarus.

The first stage of checking the maintenance system of the Mahiliou region took place in December 2020. As always, in such cases, it was reported about the success of the event. But, obviously, a number of shortcomings requiring elimination were identified. This (elimination of the abovementioned shortcomings) can explain the uncharacteristic multistage revision of the region’s Territorial Defence.

Regarding the uniform equipment of the CSTO CRRF, it should be recalled that this idea was discussed for many years, but its implementation was restrained by financial factors. This issue remains unresolved at the present time: the financial capabilities of most of the CSTO countries are unlikely to allow the purchase of brigade sets of new equipment and weapons in the foreseeable future. It can be assumed that the plan provides for a mixed scheme of equipping non-Russian units of the CSTO CRRF:

— purchase of new equipment and weapons in small batches;

— gratuitous assistance from Russia (mainly in the form of supplies of modernized Soviet equipment).

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