The Belarusian-Chinese cooperation in the military sphere does not seem to be developing as successfully as it is considered to and as the Belarusian authorities hoped for.
Prospects for Belintersat. The national satellite communications system Belintersat is an obvious object for being proud of. Although it was created with financial and technological support from China. Despite the fact that the Belarusian technological contribution there, to put it mildly, is hardly noticeable, the presence of such a complex system and the ability to exploit it is a serious achievement for Belarus as well as personally for Aliaksandr Lukashenka whether you like it or not.
Along with the national missile program (creation of the “long arm” and medium-range SAM) “Belintersat” became an image project for Lukashenka. However, in addition to prestige, own communications satellite is a key element of the digital communications of the state’s military organization. Judging by the periodically emerging statements about the intention to purchase another 1-2 space communications devices, the project was commercially successful.
Russian specialists have previously noted that the platforms like Belintrsat-1 can be used to control hundreds of tactical units, long-range UAVs, and high-precision weapons. This is indirectly confirmed by the fact that the operator of Belintersat communication system is the “Precise Electromechanics Factory”, the creator of MLRS “Polonaise”.
On the sidelines of the Milex-2017 exhibition, it was reported that in the near future it had been planned to integrate the M20 ballistic missile produced by the PRC into the “Polonaise” weapon system and also use the existing developments in the project to create a national medium-range air defence system. The seriousness of the prospects was evidenced by agreements with the military industry of the PRC (import of rocket engines for upgrading anti-aircraft missiles, creating the production of rocket engines and powders), as well as promises from the top-management of State Military Industrial Committee of Belarus (SMIC) to demonstrate a sample of the Belarusian air defence missile system by the end of 2017.
The year 2019 is nearing the middle, but nothing of the promised has been demonstrated. Moreover, one can think that SMIC generally seeks to avoid talking about the prospects of cooperation with the PRC in the missile sphere.
And here’s the news: on April 8, 2019 “Precise Electromechanics Factory” and the Russian satellite communications operator FSUE “Space Communications” (SC) signed a cooperation agreement. Which includes, among other things, the exchange of technical information and expert consultations on sharing the capabilities of the existing SC satellite grouping, as well as new satellites being created as part of the development program of the orbital grouping of spacecraft for communication and broadcasting. In particular, we are talking about the participation of the Belarusian enterprise in the creation of the SC spacecraft “Express-AMU6” and actual supplementing by it Belintersat-1 after the expiration of its active existence (approximately, 2031). In this case, we are talking about (at least for now) the use of the resource of “Express-AMU6” (planned for launch in the years 2022-2026). Which means, that the satellite itself will be owned by the SC, not by Belarus. Unlike Belintersat-1. “Belintersat” itself, having lost its own satellite, will essentially become an intermediary between the consumer and the Russian SC.
And although it is stated that cooperation with the Russian company will allow “… to increase the volume and quality of satellite communications services provided by “Belintersat”, to gain new experience in the implementation of international projects and, importantly, to give another impetus to the development of the space industry in our country” there is the fact: Belarus can lose its communication satellite.
The reasons. It is highly unlikely that Belarus has initiated a slowdown in cooperation with China in the field of satellite communications and missile weapons. Both “Belintersat” and “Polonaise” can be considered commercially successful projects. If not, Minsk would not have talked about the prospects for their development. It is obvious that development meant the continuation of Chinese technological and financial support on the same terms. But the commercial successes of “Belintersat” and “Polonaise” could have led to China’s thinking whether it is creating a commercial rival in the arms market? We are talking about hundreds of millions, and potentially a billion or more dollars of the possible volume of exports of products and communication services. In any case, there is an interesting fact: after the delivery of the Belarusian MLRS “Polonaise” to Baku, Chinese visitors started to come to Baku more often. Given that, earlier, China delivered heavy MRLS to Armenia. Chinese systems are able to hit the Azerbaijani oil transport infrastructure. In Yerevan it is considered as a factor deterring Azerbaijan from the resumption of the war in Karabakh.
The second reason for Beijing’s intractability could be Moscow’s position. It is quite possible that Russia offered the People’s Republic of China something significant in exchange for refusing to work in spheres, sensitive to the Kremlin, in post-Soviet countries, which the Russian leadership still considers as a zone of its “privileged interests”.
At the same time, China doesn’t have to say no to Minsk. It is easy to offer such conditions under which the development of these projects loses attractiveness for the Belarus.
In any case, we have to state: those projects of the Belarusian-Chinese cooperation in the military-industrial complex, which a couple of years ago demonstrated the potential for development, have not yet reached the planned level. Unfortunately.
What does this have to do with Syria? According to Israeli sources, on April 13, 2019 during an Israeli air raid in Syria, one of the objects involved in the Syrian missile program was destroyed. At the time of the strike, foreign specialists were allegedly there, and there are Belarusians among the dead.
Official sources in Minsk said that this information is not true, the Belarusian state and its companies do not participate in Syrian missile development. There are no grounds for not believing the refutation of the Belarusian authorities. The fact is that involvement in the programs of improving Syrian missile weapons automatically makes Belarus a de facto partner of Iran and an adversary of Israel, the US, the EU, the Arabian monarchies, and, although not directly, Turkey and Russia – those countries which Minsk would like to positively develop relations with. So there is no rational reason for Belarus to participate in the development of missile weapons in the interests of Damascus.
But the refutation concerns the fact of participation in the development of rocket weapons by state institutions and companies affiliated with the state. As already noted, theoretically the work of the citizens of Belarus on the Syrian military-industrial complex in private, without the knowledge and permission of the official Minsk can be possible.
Secondly, the presence of Belarusian specialists at Syrian facilities in theory (we are talking about the theoretical possibility in the absence of proven facts) could be connected with the study of the available technology in the field of missile production in Syria. This is a ballistic missile M600. Which is either a clone or a variation of the Fateh family of Iranian short-range missiles.
The Iranian missile program is a rather confusing topic. It is also a question whether one can believe in Tehran’s reports on successes in the missile field. But Riyadh, Tel Aviv and Washington firmly believe in the power of the Iranian rocket fist. According to reports from Tehran, the latest modifications of Fateh have a range of more than 500 km, high accuracy and are capable of carrying half a ton of warheads (according to some data, 600 kg). Believing or not believing Iranian statements is a matter of taste. In any case, it is reliably known that the Syrian M600 are capable of throwing a half-ton warhead to a range of up to 300 km.
Another interesting fact is that according to the results of the development of the Fateh missile, the United States imposed sanctions on the Chinese aerospace conglomerate CASC. Which includes the company having developed M20 missile.
Thus, today we can draw several conclusions from the Syrian case:
— there are no grounds to disbelieve the statements of the official Minsk about not participating in the Syrian / Iranian missile program, the costs of such participation too obviously overlap any hypothetical interest;
— it is theoretically possible for Belarusian specialists to participate in the activities of the Syrian military-industrial complex privately without the permission of the state, but there is no reliable evidence of this;
— Syria has certain technologies and production in missile development, in which Belarus may be interested as a client. There is no reliable information about cooperation between Minsk and Damascus in the missile sphere. But if in Minsk they showed interest, taking into account the situation of the Syrian regime, the likelihood is high that Belarus would receive the necessary assistance from Damascus (technologies and products).
What’s next? In Beijing, the term “iron brothers” is used to describe relations with Belarus. In total, China has two “iron brothers”: the second is Pakistan.
International politics are symbols and rituals. Formally, Minsk and Beijing continue to state the strategic level of partnership. An important sign will be the fact of participation / non-participation of the Chinese calculation at a military parade on July 3. The anniversary year, the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Belarus from the Nazis, and China is a member of the anti-Hitler coalition. The absence of the Chinese parade unit will become a sign of the crisis of the “iron brotherhood”.
As for the military-technical dimension of cooperation, the absence or demonstration of the M20 rocket on the stand of the “Precise Electromechanics Factory” during the Milex-2019 exhibition will be an important sign here as well.
It seems that rust has appeared on the Belarusian-Chinese “iron brotherhood”. And only the time will tell whether the parties will be able (and willing) to clean it off.