Interview of “Belarus Security Blog” Project Manager Andrei Porotnikov to the website “Belarusian partisan”.
-It is discussed, that the national security of Belarus faces a threat — the lack of national staff. Are the Belarusian army and security forces headed by non-Belarusians able to resist the aggressor?
— We have quasi-feudal system of governance, in which the main thing is the loyalty to you know who. Therefore the issue of nationality is not important here. The question of loyalty is not linked to nationality. Not all non-Belarusian law-enforcement agencies officers are Russians. And, according to the experience of Ukraine, for example, to the story of the corvette “Ternopil”, Russians showed examples of Ukrainian patriotism, while many ethnic Ukrainians betrayed their country for the sake of “Russian salary”.
If we talk about the response to external aggression, then it matters, who is the aggressor. If it is the West — the answer is obvious: the aggression will be responded to. The issue of effect is debatable and depends on many factors.
If the aggressor is Russia, the conditional script of the struggle is split into two versions: with military intervention or without it. First one is the least likely. But it is most successful for Moscow: the majority of security forces are morally not ready to shoot at Russians. For two decades they have been told about the brotherhood, union, partnership, common destiny, etc.. Well, and Scaryna drank for brotherhood with Pushkin in St. Petersburg. And you want them to shoot.
More likely is a preliminary destabilization of the situation in the country, when the military is openly used at the final stage of aggression. And at first intelligence agencies and local agents of influence act. There is a number of important points here. Firstly, the situation must be destabilized. Secondly, it is necessary to explain the position of Moscow to the Russians, why suddenly yesterday’s friend and ally, a member of all integration projects in the CIS proved an enemy that must be destroyed. It will take a year or two. Minsk also will not sleep in time. Ukraine’s experience shows that the internal destabilization is not impossible without mass betrayal, or at least a wide sabotage of orders of the central authorities in the field. It is also important to maintain control over major cities. Riots in 4 or more cities with several thousand participants threat to involve into chaos the whole country: there can be just not enough forces to suppress them, and the riot can begin to spread.
Therefore the key instruments for ensuring security of the existing regime are not the army and police (hated by our opposition), but security services and bureaucracy. At the same security services monitor senior officials.
Of course, there are no impregnable fortresses. Slobodan Milosevic had been around a lot and his associates were also not timid guys. But when the West decided that “it is time”, the former Yugoslav leader had only two years to live. It cost several billion dollars. But the result is known. And it began not with sanctions, but with shooting of the most loyal to Milosevic security forces and government officials. The remaining part of them was “bought”, another part was intimidated, and the remaining withdrew from the protection of the regime.
— Russian-Ukrainian war forced President Lukashenka to think about the state of the Belarusian Armed Forces. What is now our army, is it efficient?
— The issue of efficiency and combat capability is solved only by a war. Once again, it all depends on the level of the enemy. All these ratings of combat capability, militarization and the other ones, loved in the West, are complete nonsense. Hussein’s army was considered to be one of the most efficient in the region. So what? Mr. Gaddafi sternly shook aiguillettes: the ratings compilers were delighted. But the final of the life of venerable bedouin can be now found on youtube.
On the other hand, even a pack of lions lose if led by a ram. Classic example if the loss of Milosevic in Kosovo. He certainly couldn’t defeat NATO, but was able to get the combat draw.
Belarusian army for the current authorities is an attribute, not an instrument. Do the neighbors have an army? Well, we’re not the ancient people, we will also have an army. And will even give the money to them. A reasonable amount. That “reasonable amount” has been spent for the third decade already. That means the leftover principle financing. And it’s not the issue of the economic capacity of the state – it’s the issue of the attitude. Both the society and the authorities are strikingly unanimous in relation to the military in particular, and to the people in uniform at all: they are perceived only as dependents, which are necessary to maintain. At the same time the beautiful words are spoken. This hypocritical attitude undermines the central defence resource — morale of both the military and, as a result, of the citizens. Just watch videos from military parades in Moldova, for example. There the army is nominal value, but the inhabitants of Chisinau meet their military columns with applause. And what relation do we have? Does someone applause to passing soldiers? I haven’t observed this. At least in Minsk.
You can certainly say that somewhere the situation in the defence is worse. But focusing on poor means being the outsiders.
-Mr. Lukashenka wants to produce helicopters and tanks in Belarus. Is it real?
— Later the Chairman of State Military Industry Siarhej Hurulyou said that we are speaking about light armoured vehicles and manufacturing components for the aviation industry.
In Orsha everything is ready to assemble helicopters, but only from imported components at the moment. But later the elements of fuselage can be also produced there. The issue if the market abroad. Because Belarus is too small to maintain profitability of the production using only the domestic market.
And in order to have export prospects we need four components: an acceptable quality, competitive prices; attractive delivery conditions (leasing, lending, etc.); high-quality service. Aviation market is very conservative and getting into it takes a new manufacturers years and even decades. India, in order to promote its helicopters «Dhruv» on the external markets, gives them to foreign countries as humanitarian aid. Therefore, Belarus can’t create own brand helicopters from scratch on its won. But in cooperation with the same Ukrainian “Motor Sich” the chances really grow. And this is already being done.
Speaking about the tanks, if this issue will be worked on seriously, we also need to cooperate with somebody: we have Ukraine with its own engineering school and tank-assembling capacities. There are China, Pakistan and Turkey. And we have no production facilities or engineering school, in order to ensure deep localization of products in the short term. We can produce individual components to assemble vehicles from kits. But creation our own national tank project makes no sense: without at least relative to the mass production each unit will be golden. And in case there is no mass production, there are no prospects in foreign markets. Military equipment is bought for 30-40 years and undergoes several upgrades. And a modernization program will be disproportionately expensive for small-scale production. That is why national tank production died in the Czech Republic, Romania, Serbia, Argentina, Brazil, Italy, and Sweden. They retained repair and assembly capacities — but stopped their own projects.
-After the events in Ukraine the topic of neutrality is especially urgent for Belarus. People do not want to talk about NATO and to provoke Russia, but Belarusians want neutrality. What can guarantee the neutrality?
— The ability to bulldoze the whole, or a substantial part of the capital of any neighboring state. Simply speaking, own missile shield (or sword). Which is preferable — ballistic or cruise missiles, must be decided by the military. But it is obvious that we need to get out of the US-Soviet Treaty “On the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles”, according to which our country is forbidden to be armed with land-based missiles with a range greater than 500 kilometers. This is a discriminatory document, which in the absence of an effective international mechanism of ensuring the security of Belarus puts us in a vulnerable position.
I am a supporter of the country’s neutral status. But saying “A” it is necessary to say “B” as well. Neutrality would require a radical change in approach to national defence. Firstly, military spending must be at least 3% of GDP, i.e. 2.5 times more than now. Secondly, we need a substantial increase of the army. Naturally, the rejection of draft shouldn’t even be discussed as well as the alternative service. Non-aligned country must be ready to fight back at 360 degrees. This means the need for mass military training.
-Can we speak about the transfer of Swiss defence system to Belarus?
-It is neither justified nor real. Firstly, the militia system is not a cheap pleasure. Look at the military budget of Switzerland and think about why it should cost less for us? Secondly, do not forget that Switzerland is ¾ covered with mountains. Where since the First World War up to the end of the 90s massive fortifications were built. And in fact these are fortresses in the rocks. Well, you can not disregard the difference in culture. Culture has always played a huge role in security matters. While few people pay attention to it.
— What is the territorial defence, well-promoted in Belarus: another whim or necessity?
-In its present form it is a headache for the military. There is a Belarusian fun: reinventing the wheel. And not a simple one, but a square one. And when it is not performing its functions, then they make a triangular one. Again, not working. And suddenly trapezoid wheel will do? And that can continue forever. But not using a round wheel.
The “wheel” of territorial defence needs two normal elements: voluntary formation of regional forces and the availability of weapons for the fighters. The best system in the former USSR was established in Estonia. There weren’t reinventing the wheel and adopted the Scandinavian experience.
In our country the forced labor is traditionally used. And military weapons in the hands of the citizens is a nightmare of the current government. You imagine 120 thousand men volunteers with guns at home? Then, instead of the “election” you need to held real elections. Therefore, in the present political system there is no place for effective territorial defence at all. But there is a lot of room for fraud, shows and paperwork.
— And political issues. “Partisans” suggest that because of the small salaries and devastation in the Armed Forces nobody likes President Lukashenka and nobody is going to vote for him. Does the situation in Belarusian army is really so bad?
— I would not speak, that everything’s so simple. And the situation in the army should be rather correctly called crisis but not the “devastation”. Speaking about “nobody likes”: he is not 100 UDS bill to be loved by everybody. The main thing is, that they should obey his commands. On the topic of election I can tell a thing from the experience: yes, in private conversations the attitude “tired” can be heard. But where is the alternative? Who can come instead of him? On the E-pramova website you can find video with performances of middling opposition politicians on military service. Okay, opinions of people may have different, even funny. But nobody of them, except one speaker, was able to clearly state their position. Our politicians are just a show-off against the background of failure to make elemental, basic thing for a politician: to speak publicly with (Warning!) prepared text.
-What is the role of the Russian military bases situated on the territory of Belarus?
-In Belarus, there are no Russian bases. There are two military facilities. The difference is in legal status. Their role is twofold: on the one hand, they are a kind of symbol to “mark” the territory, that is “here’s Russian spirit, here’s a smell of Russia” (although oranges would smell better). On the other hand these are targets for attacks in the event of a serious regional conflict involving Russia. Those professionals, with whom I manage to communicate personally, say that the military value of these facilities decreases. They no longer have crucial importance for Russia.