National security and defence of Belarus (August 2021)

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The most important events of the month. In the Belarusian army, August was marked by the preparation for the joint exercise with Russia “West-2021”.

Belarus announced that the number of participants in “West-2021ĺ in Belarus will be about 12.8 thousand, including about 2.5 thousand from the Russian Federation and up to 50 Kazakh servicemen from the CSTO CRRF. It was planned to use the capabilities of four test ranges (against 8 locations in 2017) to perform the tasks of the exercises on the territory of Belarus. Moreover, all training grounds are located in the south-western direction (Poland-Ukraine) in the Brest region (in 2017, only two grounds in the west of the country were involved). 400 Belarusian servicemen went to Russia to participate in the episodes of the exercise. The organizers ritually declared that “West-2021” was defensive in nature and wasn’t not directed against third countries.

The scenario provides for modelling “… a situation of escalation and emergence of a conflict associated with an increase in the activity of illegal armed groups, separatist and international terrorist organizations with external support”. Later it became known that the scenario according to which Russia plans to act differs from the Belarusian one and provides for a direct interstate armed conflict. In total, about 200 thousand servicemen from a dozen countries has been involved in the exercise on the territory of Belarus and Russia.

The developments within the month. On August 3, 2021, Minsk hosted official negotiations between the minister of defence of Belarus Viktar Khrenin and the chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Kazakhstan, Lieutenant General Murat Bektanov. During the meeting, Khrenin invited the Kazakh contingent to participate in the “West-2021” exercises. Later it became known that this invitation was accepted.

During August, the tense situation on the border of Belarus with the EU countries continued. In addition to migration pressure, the Belarusian regime undertook demonstrative actions and verbal interventions against neighbours. So, on August 3-12, a complex operational-tactical exercise was held with the Hrodna border group. Among other things, the issues of mobilization and combat coordination of mobile reserve units, strengthening border protection, and countering illegal armed formations have been trained. More than 160 persons liable for military service were called up from the reserve and 8 units of transport were involved. Army units and the Air Force were also involved in the exercises of the border guards. The troops jointly trained countering armed violations of the border.

On August 5, 2021, Lukashenka held a meeting on the situation on the border with the EU. The Ukrainian authorities were accused of a confrontational policy that poses a threat to Belarus. The Belarusian ruler gave an order to strengthen the protection of the state border to prevent its violation. At the same time, vague threats were made to the neighbours if they dare to expel illegal immigrants back to Belarus. However, when neighbouring countries began to apply these measures in practice, the Belarusian regime limited itself to political demarches and sentimental stories about the violation of the rights of illegal migrants, not daring to take forceful steps.

On August 11, 2021, top nomenclature of the State Secretariat of the Security Council, the Ministry of Defence and the State Military Industry Committee were shown the combat capabilities of prototypes of Russian-made unmanned aerial systems. The capabilities of engaging ground targets of the unmanned tactical reconnaissance and combat complex “Chekan” with a kamikaze aircraft, quadcopters “Quadro-1400” and “Loitering pipe” were demonstrated. The latter used RPG-26 grenade launchers and small air bombs. It is stated that the priority of unmanned aviation development by SMIC for the near future has determined the creation of combat drones and high-precision small-sized aircraft weapons based on the existing potential and developments.

On August 16, 2021, a working meeting within the framework of the Belarusian-Polish Intergovernmental Coordination Commission for Cross-Border Cooperation was held. The parties exchanged views on the situation on the state border, the current trends in its development and problematic issues affecting the border security.

On August 20, 2021 it became known that Lukashenka approved a draft protocol between the governments of Belarus and Russia on the extension of the agreements on the use of military facilities of the Russian army located on Belarusian territory as a basis for negotiations.

On August 28, 2021, units of anti-aircraft missile forces with S-400 air defence systems arrived in Hrodna as part of the creation of a combat training centre for joint training of the Air Force and Air Defence Forces of Belarus and Russia. Later on September 8, 2021, Russian Su-30SM fighters arrived at the Baranavičy airbase.

On August 29, 2021, a delegation of the Pakistani Armed Forces arrived in Belarus. The purpose of the visit was to discuss the results and prospects of military cooperation between the two countries. Talks of the Pakistani military delegation in the Ministry of Defence of Belarus and a visit to the Military Academy took place during the visit.

On August 31, 2021 in Astrakhan (Russia) a meeting of the Coordination Committee on Air Defence Issues under the Council of Defence Ministers of the CIS countries was held. The main issue was the adaptation of the unified air defence system of the CIS countries to solving the tasks of aerospace defence. A decision was made to conduct the “Regional Security-2022” Joint Computer Command and Staff Exercise of the CIS Joint Air Defence System.

In preparation for West 2021, the following joint Belarusian-Russian events were held:

— Training camps with the call of more than 130 persons liable for military service to participate in a joint special exercise with the forces and means of technical and logistical support on August 23-27. More than 1,300 servicemen and over 200 pieces of equipment took part in the event. Among other things, the restoring transport infrastructure objects (bridges and railways) after air strikes has been trained.

— Operational and special exercises of the signal troops. During the event, the deployment and operation of the communication system in the interests of mobile command posts was carried out. The troops organized interaction with the communication centres of the Russian army units that arrived in Belarus to participate in the “West-2021”, as well as with the Joint Staff of the CSTO, the Baltic Fleet, the headquarters of the Western Military District Armed Forces of Russia. New communication equipment of Belarusian production was used. The deployed communication system is significantly superior to that which was deployed during “West-2017”.

— Joint tactical and special exercises with engineering units of the armies of Belarus and Russia.

As part of the preparation of the territorial troops for the exercise “West-2021” on August 20, 2021, the formation of a battalion of territorial troops of the Baranavičy district of the Brest region began. During the exercise, the battalion trained interaction with army units, performed tasks to counter illegal armed formations and sabotage and reconnaissance groups as well as to prepare and conduct the defence of the settlement.

In August, on the territory of Russia, a working meeting between the chiefs of staffs and the officials of the CIS member states border departments responsible for organizing border protection on improving the organization and conduct of joint special border operations was held. At the same time, a joint command and staff exercise under the code name “Commonwealth-2021” on the topic “The use of a grouping of border and other departments of the CIS member states to resolve a crisis situation on the external border” was held. The participants trained creating such a joint group, the organization and conduct of joint actions to localize the crisis situation on the border, including with the use of military equipment and aviation.

In August, a traditional exercise with anti-aircraft missile forces took place. The event took place in two stages on the territory of Belarus and at the Russian Ashuluk training ground, where the combat launches were carried out. Traditionally, the troops trained covering troops and objects from air strikes “… in a complex and rapidly changing situation with the use of high-intensity radio-electronic interference by the enemy”. The fight against UAVs, taking into account the Russian experience gained in the course of regional conflicts, was trained as well. During the exercise, the next successful tests of three Belarusian-made radar stations (“Vostok-3D”, “Rosa-RB-M”, “Rodnik”) were carried out. The anti-aircraft missile forces used the “Buk” and “S-300” air defence missile systems. Part of the combat crews of Belarusian anti-aircraft gunners later participated in the traditional CIS air defence exercises “Combat Commonwealth-2021”.

Su-30SM fighters of the Belarusian Air Force, which successfully carried out combat launches of R-27 missiles, repaired by the Belarusian military-industrial complex, also took part in the “Combat Commonwealth — 2021”. They also trained detection and destruction of cruise missiles as well as destruction of ground targets by the fighters.

Minsk hosted the third meeting of the Joint Working Group of the Belarusian-Chinese Coordinating Committee on Cooperation in the Field of Arms and Military Equipment. The Chinese delegation was headed by Major General Fan Jianjun, Head of the Department for Cooperation on Armaments, Military Equipment and Technologies of the Main Directorate for the Development of Arms and Military Equipment of the Central Military Council of the PRC. The parties noted that military-technical cooperation is developing. But the specific results were not announced. New cooperation projects were proposed, but their content is also unknown.

In August, the Belarusian Defence Ministry announced plans to form a squadron of Mi-35M combat helicopters. Judging by the intentions to receive the first four Mi-35s this year, in the future the squadron of these aircraft will be formed in the same order (purchase in small batches). The reason is financial constraints and the inability of the Belarusian budget to pay for the entire squadron at once or guarantee the planned allocation of resources for the purchase of equipment for several years.

Last month, the Russian company “Uraltransmash” announced the completion of the delivery of modernized 2S3M “Akatsiya” self-propelled howitzers to Belarus. The corresponding contract was signed at the MILEX-2021 exhibition in June 2021, and the transfer of equipment to the customer was planned for 2022.

In August, the CIS countries held a joint command and staff training and anti-terrorist exercises “Caspian-Anti-Terror-2021”. Which are dedicated to countering terrorist attacks on objects of the maritime infrastructure and the oil and gas industry, the organization of interdepartmental and interstate interaction, the use of CIS information systems for collective use.

Let us also pay attention to the lack of information about the holding of the board of the State Military Industry Committee, dedicated to the results of work for the first half of this year. The event was scheduled for August 5, 2021. However, it is still unclear whether it happened or not.

Conclusions. Speaking about “West-2021”, it is worth noting that for the first time officially the Kremlin actually joins the Belarusian-Russian exercise to the one that is traditionally held simultaneously on the territory of Russia. Earlier, the official Minsk diligently fenced off the Russian exercise: there is the Belarusian-Russian “West”, and there is a separate Russian “West”. Russia confronted Minsk with the fact that the events of the “West” on Belarusian territory are just an episode of a larger “West” that will take place in Russia. It should be noted that none of the public statements of the Belarusian authorities gave grounds to believe that it agreed with such a transformation of the formerly bilateral exercise as well as was aware of Russia’s intentions to “privatize” it, a landmark event for the Belarusian regime. We have devoted a special article to this issue.

Lukashenka’s statements at the meeting on the situation on the border with the EU can be interpreted as carte blanche for the generals about their actions. However, so far the Belarusian regime is clearly not ready to increase the level of escalation on the border with NATO countries. Obviously, an adequate assessment of the possible consequences is present within the Belarusian elite. And at the same time, there is no support from Russia for such actions.

It can be stated that the attempt to blackmail the EU with the migrants has failed. The Belarusian regime was captured by its own fantasies regarding the real policies of neighbouring countries and the European Union as a whole. Lukashenka expected that:

— neighbouring countries will not dare to take tough measures to prevent illegal migration (forgetting about the actions of Hungary and Greece in a similar situation);

— the influx of illegal immigrants will cause a political crisis in neighbouring countries up to the collapse of the government system;

— the European Union is weak, divided and faces a permanent threat of disintegration;

— the political crisis in Lithuania, Latvia and Poland will force these countries and the EU as a whole to negotiate with the Belarusian regime on the terms of the latter.

Such a level of planning for the most important foreign policy action testifies to the extremely low level of analytical support for decisions made by the Belarusian regime. This is what happens when real knowledge is replaced by the agenda of the talk shows of Russian TV channels.

Judging by the continuous influx of illegal migrants trying to get to Poland from the territory of Belarus, the meeting of the Belarusian-Polish Intergovernmental Coordination Commission for Cross-Border Cooperation ended without much result. Which led to the introduction of a state of emergency on the Polish territories adjacent to the border with Belarus. Although in this decision of Poland there is more politics than a practical necessity from the point of view of ensuring border security.

Thus, all EU/NATO countries bordering Belarus have introduced special legal regimes in connection with threats to their border security from Belarus. The Belarusian regime is finally turning from an unpleasant counterparty to a source of threats for the West. We have dedicated a special article to this trend.

The term of use of Russian military facilities in Belarus ended in June this year. In 2020, Russia proposed to extend it for the next 25-year period. Back in 2017, the Belarusian authorities announced their intention to resolve the issue of extending the location of military facilities during 2018. This issue was then supposed to be settled in 2020. The delay in making a decision by the Belarusian regime is due to the fact that Minsk is using this issue in bargaining with the Kremlin in other areas of bilateral relations. The fact of the beginning of substantive negotiations on this matter testifies to the beginning of the next phase of such bargaining. The same can be said about the so-called integration roadmaps (union programs).

The main question regarding building the potential of the unified CIS air defence system for missile defence is who will pay for it. Large-scale rearmament and re-equipment of the CIS states’ armies is required. But most of them simply don’t have the money. Without Russian support, including not only loans, but also grants, and military-technical assistance in the form of the transfer of new weapons and equipment to the participating countries, it seems difficult to implement this ambitious task. But so far Russia has not shown generosity appropriate to this task. It is limited to the transfer of equipment from the Russian army stocks or to offering to place Russian military bases on the territory of partner countries.

Speaking about the prospects for the purchase of Russian weapons, we note that the possibilities of Russia for crediting export supplies are not being used. Despite the fact that Minsk previously announced its interest in using part of the unused funds of the Russian loan for the construction of a nuclear power plant for the purchase of weapons in Russia. However, so far it looks like the Kremlin is in no hurry to promote a qualitative build-up of the military potential of its ally.

It is worth paying attention to the high speed of execution of the contract for the modernization of the “Akatsiya” howitzers for the Belarusian army by JSC “Uraltransmash”. Which can be explained either by the small size of the batch, or by the fact that the equipment was provided right from the Russian army stocks.

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