National security and defence of Belarus (January 2021)


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The most important events of the month. On January 29, 2021, during the meeting, summing up the results of State Military Industry Committee (SMIC) in 2020, a number of statements were made.

Thus, the officials announced the plans to create a missile for the MLRS “Polonaise” with a launch range of up to 300 km, which will be tested in practice at the Sary-Shagan test site in Kazakhstan. Also in 2021, the next stage of testing a medium-range anti-aircraft missile will take place. We have dedicated an article to these plans.

The state defence order has been fulfilled, all allocated funds have been used in full. SMIC reported that in 2020 it supplied the army with more than 2.2 thousand units of equipment, mainly communication equipment (2,180 units). Also in 2020, 11 units of aviation equipment (including 4 airplanes), unmanned aerial vehicles and electronic warfare equipment, as well as the S-300PS air defence missile system division were repaired. Such a bias towards communication technology can be explained by price parameters. SMIC organizations have carried out about 180 experimental design works. The Belarusian army has adopted 14 basic models of weapons and military equipment developed by the domestic military-industrial complex. The work on creating a line of attack UAVs and small-sized high-precision aircraft weapons continued. There is progress in the development and production of small arms: machine guns of the VSK-100 series are recommended for adoption in the Army. The serial production of cartridges of three types has been mastered. By 2030, the military-industrial complex of Belarus plans to double the share of its participation in the fulfilment of the state defence order, as well as a significant increase in the share of civilian products and services to ensure economic security in the face of sanctions risks, restrictions and prohibitions.

The developments within the month. On January 4, 2021, the initiative of the General Prosecutor’s Office of Belarus to toughen the legislation “… for extremism and violation of public order” was announced. At the same time, it is not just about strengthening administrative and criminal liability. It is planned to touch upon other areas of regulatory regulation, including labour. Simply put, we can talk about de facto prohibition of any public political activity not authorized by the authorities (including the right to strike) and further intimidation of society. At the same time, the Prosecutor General of Belarus Andrei Shved publicly stated that in 2021 the intensity of the search for participants in mass protests will be intensified. This is Lukashenka’s personal demand.

On January 14, 2021, joint training of combat arms and special forces of the Air Force and Air Defence took place. Practically this was a bilateral exercise: the aviation trained overcoming the air defence system, while anti-aircraft gunners — to counter air strikes. New methods of warfare were tested. New and modernized models of weapons and equipment were used in conditions of active interference in the fight against high-precision weapons and strike UAVs, low-altitude and low-speed targets. Five airfields were involved, more than 10 targets were in the air. The air defence forces not only detected and tracked targets, but also destroyed them, constantly changing combat positions. The experience of hostilities in Syria, Libya and in Nagorno-Karabakh was used.

During the event, the commander of the Air Force and Air Defence of Belarus Ihar Holub said that in 2021 it is planned to receive new radar stations “Protivnik-G” and “Vostok”, while contracts for the supply of Mi-35 helicopters and the second batch of Su-30SM fighters had been signed as well. In addition, there is pre-contract work on the purchase of S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems and “Pantsir-S” anti-aircraft missile and artillery systems from Russia.

On January 18, 2021 Aliaksandr Lukashenka met the Minister of Defence of Belarus Viktar Khrenin. Among other things, they discussed the holding of the traditional Belarusian-Russian exercise “West-2021” in September this year. In the course of the exercise the scenario of counteraction to the phased escalation of the military-political situation around the conditional countries will be tested. At the suggestion of the Russian side, the exercise is planned on the territory of the two states. According to Khrenin, the actions of the combined assault subunits in highly urbanized areas will be trained, new and modernized models of weapons and military equipment will be assessed, the combat experience of Russian servicemen will be studied as well. At the same time, the planned scale of the exercise has not yet been reported. Khrenin said that in the combat training activities carried out on the territory of the neighbouring NATO countries and Ukraine, one can see the practice of conducting military operations against Belarus.

On January 25, 2021, the traditional check of the Army’s combat and mobilization readiness began. It was stated that the troops will operate on almost all training grounds of the Armed Forces and in certain areas of the terrain. The military will train to overcome water obstacles, work out combat training tasks day and night both in forests and in settlements. The units of mechanized and airborne brigades were involved in the exercise activities. Those liable for military service were called up for military training from the reserve.

On January 26, 2021, Lukashenka appointed the Chief of the General Staff of the Army of Belarus Aliaksandr Valfovich the State Secretary of the Security Council. The Belarusian ruler again tried to link the protests in Belarus against the rigged presidential elections and the regime’s punitive actions against the people with the internal Russian political dynamics. Vasily Herasimau became the new head of the State Control Committee. Appointing him, Lukashenka instructed him, among other things, “… to suppress any attempts to destabilize the situation in the country” by preventing their financing from abroad.

On January 28, 2021, a further tightening of legislation in order to suppress protests in Belarus, including limiting the right to strike, was announced. The electoral legislation will also be changed. The nature of the changes in the latter is still unknown. But the innovations are likely to be aimed at further limiting the opportunities for mass campaigning and observing the voting procedure.

Conclusions. We devoted a special article to the financial results of the Belarusian military-industrial complex in 2020. It should be added that in 2020 the investments of the SMIC enterprises, even in nominal value, were less than in 2019 (BYN 74.2 million compared to 84.7 million). Counting in US dollars, investments fell by a quarter. Also note that SMIC does not report on the number of countries to which military products were supplied last year: in 2019 there were 97 of them.

The SMIC plans until 2030 indicate that from the small procurement budget of the Belarusian Ministry of Defence, only a small share is spent on purchasing the products of the domestic military-industrial complex.

The prosecutor’s office of Belarus continues to be the centre of coordination of repressions against the people. Judging by the initiatives taken by the prosecutor’s office one can surely tell that it is also the main developer and initiator of the repression.

The pre-contract work on the purchase of S-400 and “Pantsir-S” can last an infinitely long time. Especially considering that the cost of one S-400 battalion is comparable to the annual budget of Belarus for national defence. An analysis of the expenditures provided by the state budget for 2021 for law enforcement agencies and the military allows us to state that no significant improvement in their financial situation can be expected. In addition, the feasibility of the budget revenues and the stability of the national currency remains doubtful. Which directly influences the prospects for expensive arms exports in the interests of the army.

At the same time, the orientation of the Belarusian MoD towards large-scale purchases of air defence weapons in Russia calls into question the future of the project of the Belarusian Buk-MB3K medium-range air defence system. As a result, Lukashenka’s order from 2014 to create a domestic anti-aircraft missile system, not worse than S-300, can also be not fulfilled. The successful completion of the project of a domestic medium-range air defence system would be a serious foundation for the development of the export potential of Belarusian defence industry. It directly affects the feasibility of another Lukashenka’s order to increase defence exports to USD 2 billion. It would also contribute to building up Belarusian technological autonomy and reducing technical dependence on Russia in critical areas.

Despite regular statements by official Minsk about the presence of external dangers of a military nature from the West, there is no increase in military spending in Belarus. Moreover, in stable prices for the period from 2011 to 2019, it decreased by 11.5%. This testifies precisely to the clear awareness of the Lukashenka regime about the absence of an external military threat. The Belarusian authorities traditionally use security issues as a tool to promote their political and economic agenda.

It is interesting to note that this year the check of combat readiness was not as widely reported in the media as in previous years. The reason may be the attempt of the official Minsk to avoid the traditional event of combat training being perceived as a sabre-rattling directed at the West. Despite the noisy statements, the Belarusian regime is not ready for a full-scale confrontation with the West. Rather, on the contrary, it prepares, under favourable conditions, to try to stabilize relations and improve them.

It is not yet completely clear what priorities Aliaksandr Valfovich will have in his new position. He highlighted the need to combat internal threats, de facto with popular discontent with the regime’s policies. At the same time, the army, which Valfovich represents, has traditionally been aimed at countering external threats. However, it cannot be ruled out that the Belarusian Armed Forces are finally turning into another instrument of internal repression against the people. In fact, the army has already been tainted with participation in the most odious repressive practices of the regime: for example, in January there was evidence of the participation of army units in the protection of the camp to isolate protesters, which existed for a short time in August 2020 and which causes direct associations with Nazi concentration camps.