National security and defence of Belarus (February 2022)

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The most important events of the month. The most important event of February was the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Which was preceded by the joint Belarusian-Russian strategic exercise “Allied Resolve” held on the territory of Belarus.

It can be stated that the exercise has become a cover for the gathering of troops and training before the start of the aggressive actions of Russia against Ukraine. Under this pretext, a strike force of Russian troops was formed in the southeast of the Homiel region in the Kyiv operational direction. The airspace of Belarus was used for launching missile and air strikes against targets in Ukraine, including civilian ones.

Until now, there is no clear understanding whether Moscow coordinated these actions with Minsk, or whether the “ally” only informed the Lukashenka regime before the fact of using the territory of our country to invade Ukraine. The second option seems to be more realistic. But at the same time, it is worth noting that Minsk has not taken any public steps to counter this. At the level of political rhetoric and state propaganda, Lukashenka sided with the aggressor.

The developments within the month. On February 7, 2022 Aliaksandr Lukashenka said that some of the employees of the Ministry of Emergency Situations will be armed and trained so that they can take part in hostilities on a par with the army. Because it is impossible to maintain a peacetime army of 200-300 thousand people. At the same time, no one relieves the duties of conducting rescue operations in peacetime from such employees of the Ministry of Emergency Situations. This issue has already been worked out for about six months, training for personnel is underway, facilities where not only small arms, but also equipment will be stored, are being prepared. A reserve will be formed from the Ministry of Emergency Situations units so that they can act together with employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in peacetime, and in the event of a military threat, together with the military personnel of the Ministry of defence.

On February 10-20, the active phase of the Belarusian-Russian exercise “Allied Resolve-2022” took place. During it:

— The actions of brigade-level formations numbering more than 2 thousand military personnel and 300 pieces of equipment were practised.

— Russian units in Belarus practised tactics of conducting combat in urban areas.

— The tasks of blocking and storming settlements were trained by Belarusian paratroopers in cooperation with units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus.

— Russian Tu-22 long-range bombers practiced strikes against command posts deep in enemy territory with the subsequent offensive action of the forces.

— A joint group of missile forces of Belarus and Russia was formed. It included multiple launch rocket systems “Polonaise” and Russian operational-tactical missile systems (hereinafter referred to as OTMS) “Iskander”. Electronic rocket launches were carried out.

— In the Kyiv direction, only Russian units (without Belarusian ones) trained to perform the tasks.

Belarus, following the results of the exercise, expected that part of the Russian anti-aircraft missile units would remain in Belarus to carry out combat duty in air defence. The equipment would have to be deployed in Belarus permanently, and personnel — on a rotational basis.

At the same time, Belarus used the loopholes of the Vienna Document on OSCE Confidence and Security Building Measures in order to avoid fully informing neighbouring states about the “Allied Resolve”, despite the relevant requirements.

“Allied Resolve” caused concern in the West and Ukraine:

— On February 10, 2022, at the initiative of the USA, Chief of the General Staff of the Belarusian Army Viktar Hulevich and Chief of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley held a telephone conversation. Topical problems of regional security were discussed, including the “Allied Resolve” exercise.

— On February 14, 2022, the Ministers of defence of Ukraine Alexei Reznikov and Belarus Viktar Khrenin held a telephone conversation. Confidence-building and transparency measures were discussed during military exercises near the state border. Reznikov said that Khrenin assured him that there were no threats to Ukraine from the territory of Belarus.

— On February 17, 2022, Lukashenka made a number of statements. So, Belarus can deploy S-400 air defence systems near Minsk. Allegedly, negotiations are underway to purchase “… several such systems”. But for Belarus, the available S-300s are enough for defence purposes. Earlier, Russian officials stated that Minsk did not turn to the Russian Federation with a question about the possibility of supplying S-400 air defence systems to Belarus. In addition, it is not clear what “several systems” means: it is probably a division.

He will also ask Russia to create a training centre in Belarus for training with the Russian “Iskander” OTMS. Moreover, Minsk is also interested in training its sailors in Kaliningrad or Murmansk, who would then serve in joint units with the Russian Federation.

Further, after the joint exercise “Allied Resolve-2022”, part of the Russian ammunition may remain in Belarus so as not to transport them. In addition, Lukashenka hopes that Russia will donate some of the necessary military equipment to Belarus.

Lukashenka again returned to the topic of deploying nuclear weapons in Belarus: the issue of this will become relevant only in the event of threats from the West. But the nature of these threats was not specified.

He once again spoke out against the creation of Russian military bases in Belarus, since, if necessary, Russian troops can arrive in Belarus quickly enough. This was demonstrated by the transfer of Russian units from the Far East to participate in the exercise on the territory of Belarus. In addition, Lukashenka said that, if necessary, another 200,000 people plus territorial troops could be mobilised into the Belarusian army.

On February 18-19, negotiations between Lukashenka and Putin were held. The duration of the bilateral event emphasised its special significance. On February 19, 2022, they observed the exercise of the Russian nuclear forces, which was moved from this autumn to February. Putin announced his intention to strengthen the common defence space, to take joint response actions “… in the light of the growing military activity of NATO countries”. Lukashenka, in turn, announced the threat of an armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine in the Donbass, which could escalate into a global war. Naturally, the West is to blame for this.

On February 20, 2022, assessing the results of the “Allied Resolve”, Minister of defence of Belarus Viktar Khrenin said:

— there is no “military Schengen” problem between Minsk and Moscow;

— the military command of the two countries has the same mindset;

— the parties are able to “create and build up any coalition groups, regardless of their size”;

— the check of the response forces of the so-called “union state” will continue “due to the increase in military activity near the external borders … and the aggravation of the situation in the Donbass” in order to “ensure an adequate response and de-escalation of military preparations of ill-wishers near our common borders”. Naturally, after the start of Russian aggression against Ukraine, the Belarusian defence Ministry prefers not to mention the continuation of this check.

On February 21, 2022, Chief of the General Staff of the Belarusian Army V. Hulevich held a briefing. During which he stated the following:

— in connection with the increase in military activity of NATO countries and the situation in the Donbas, Russian units will leave Belarus when there is an “objective need” for this;

— the duration of the stay of Russian troops in Belarus depends, among other things, on the position of the West, Minsk has the right (sic!) to demand the withdrawal of NATO troops from the Belarusian borders and control such a withdrawal;

— the Belarusian army is able to neutralise both external and internal threats (the latter is an obvious attempt to intimidate opponents of the regime before the constitutional referendum);

— military cooperation is determined by the political relations between the states, and the expansion of NATO to the east increases the likelihood of an armed conflict.

On February 22, 2022, Lukashenka said that by the end of the year Belarus will receive 8 Su-30SMs from Russia, after which a full-fledged squadron of this aircraft will be formed. Minsk also expects to receive dozens of helicopters and Tor-M2E air defence systems from Russia “in the coming years”.

He also accused the “Polish and Baltic political elites” of militarization, border provocations and aggressive policy against Belarus without going into details. Lukashenka stated that the West is conducting an information campaign to prepare public opinion for the inevitability of war in the region.

During February, there was a sharp deterioration in Belarusian-Ukrainian relations:

— There was an incident with an alleged violation of the Belarusian airspace by UAVs from the territory of Ukraine for reconnaissance. Which very quickly came to naught, as soon as it turned out that similar devices were used in the Donbass to bombard the positions of the Ukrainian army. We have devoted a special article to this event.

— The Security Service of Ukraine announced the detention of a citizen of this country, who was recruited by one of the Belarusian state structures, on charges of committing subversive acts, acts of terrorism and collecting information in the military sphere. For the first time, the Ukrainian side openly accused the official Minsk of subversive activities against Ukraine.

The State Military Industry Committee of Belarus summed up its work in 2021. There is a positive trend compared to 2020:

  • products were supplied to 65 countries against 55 the year before;
  • export growth amounted to 28% (no specific figures were given);
  • subordinate organisations did not have losses (but the amount of profit was not mentioned).

Conclusions. The need to “militarise” the Ministry of Emergency Situations means that the Lukashenka regime has been considering the threat of war as real. In the light of the Russian-Ukrainian war, this can be seen as advance preparation for participation in it. But rather, the matter is different: Lukashenka sincerely believed in the threat to himself from the West and is preparing to resist it with all his might. The “Allied Resolve” is part of this confrontation, a tool that was supposed to restrain the West’s interference in the internal situation in Belarus. But it turned out that the exercises only deepened this opposition and made its price for the Lukashenka regime even greater.

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the former assurances of official Minsk about the absence of threats emanating from Belarusian territory are perceived by neighbours as a disguise, an attempt to hide real plans. Trust in the Lukashenka regime on the part of the West and Kyiv has finally gone into the zone of negative values. Minsk is perceived at best as an accomplice of the Kremlin, but rather as a puppet. In this regard, even communication with Lukashenka can be considered an senseless undertaking. It is obvious that for a long period Belarus is excluded from European politics.

Speaking about the supply of Su-30SM aircraft, it is worth noting that Russian sources have not yet reported on the manufacture of these aircraft for the needs of the Belarusian Air Force. Previously, it was the Russian side that was the main informant about the progress of the contract. As for dozens of helicopters, it can be assumed that we are talking about the prospects for the purchase of Mi-35 fire support helicopters and the Mi-8 transport-combat ones (12 units each). Procurement of the Tor-M2E air defence system probably involves the purchase of additional 4 batteries for the re-equipment of the 1146th anti-aircraft missile regiment, which already has 5 batteries.

In general, the number of counterparty countries of the Belarusian military-industrial complex is a very unstable indicator. For comparison: in 2017, military products were exported to 69 countries; in 2018 – to 76 countries. At the same time, it is worth paying attention not only to the fact that the State Military Industry Committee does not name the volumes of exports and industrial production of subordinate enterprises: it also refrains from specifying the geographical distribution of supplies.

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