National security and defence of Belarus (May 2021)

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The most important events of the month. May was marked by a wave of repressive initiatives and actions by the regime. We list only the most important of them.

On 4 May 2021, Lukashenka deprived of military and special ranks more than 80 former law enforcement officers and servicemen who publicly opposed the regime.

On May 14, 2021, it became known that the captain of the General Staff of the Belarusian Army Dzianis Urad was sentenced to a maximum term of imprisonment of 18 years for “treason to the state”. In March of this year he published a document on the involvement of the army in suppressing possible protests.

On May 17, 2021, Lukashenko de facto released the security officials from liability for damage caused as a result of the use of physical force, special means, weapons, military and special equipment. They are given the right to use military and special equipment in countering mass actions, even if they do not pose threats and are not accompanied by violence. All this was practiced before, but now the security services have “legal” grounds for such actions.

On May 18, 2021, the regime actually destroyed the country’s largest independent information portal, tut.by, under the pretext of violating tax laws and posting prohibited information.

On 23 May 2021, a Ryanair plane made an emergency landing in Minsk due to a false message about bomb on the plane. The media activist Raman Pratasevich was among the passengers. He and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega were arrested allegedly during checking the documents of the passengers on the flight. This event was regarded in the West as an act of state piracy with the aim of capturing a political enemy of the Belarusian regime.

On May 24, 2021, amendments to a number of laws were made:

— According to the new edition of the law on mass media, the list of information prohibited for dissemination has been significantly expanded. Now it includes the results of public opinion polls concerning the socio-political situation not sanctioned by the state. Outside the court order, access to Internet resources and network publications through which any information is disseminated that, in the opinion of officials, may harm national interests, may be restricted. In fact, we are talking about legalized repression against the media.

— All public events can only be held with the permission of the authorities. De facto it is prohibited to provide material assistance to persons who are held accountable for violating the legislation on public events.

— The legislation on telecommunications has been changed. The regime actually legalized the disconnection/limitation of the operation of communication systems, including the Internet. Blocking the Internet has become a common practice of the Lukashenka regime during the popular protests in Belarus in 2020.

The developments within the month. On May 9, 2021, Lukashenka signed a decree “On the protection of sovereignty and constitutional order”. The document, although it was announced as a safety option in case of the murder of the ruler, in fact does not eliminate the existing gaps in the organization of power in a crisis situation and is useless from the point of view of ensuring national security and defence of the state. Obviously, this is a continuation of the April story with the disclosure of the allegedly US-led “conspiracy” against Lukashenka. It is exclusively part of the regime’s propaganda campaign to intimidate the loyalist minority of the Belarusian society and force the Kremlin to make concessions under the pretext of the existence of common external threats for the Belarusian and Russian regimes. We have devoted a special article to this issue.

On May 18, 2021, the Minister of Defence of Belarus Viktar Khrenin paid a visit to Azerbaijan. There he met with the President of this country Ilham Aliyev and the Minister of Defence Zakir Hasanov. The state and prospects of bilateral cooperation in the military sphere were discussed.

On the same day, a meeting of the Security Council of Belarus took place. The expansion of the powers of this structure were discussed. The new provision on the Security Council was developed taking into account the experience of the functioning of similar structures in other countries. The State Secretariat of the Security Council will be endowed with the status of a state body (now it is a subdivision of the presidential administration). Equipping it with new functions will require a significant increase in the number of staff, which turns the secretariat into a de facto ministry.

On May 20, 2021, the head of the State Military Industry Committee (SMIC) of Belarus Dmitry Pantus met with the Ambassador of Turkey Mustafa Ozcan. The parties discussed the state and prospects of cooperation in the military-technical sphere, including a number of significant promising projects.

On May 26, 2021 in Baku, within the framework of the visit of the Belarus SMIC Chairman Dzmitry Pantus, he met with the First Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Azerbaijan Yagub Eyyubov, the Commander of the Azerbaijani Air Force Lieutenant General Ramiz Tairov and the Commander of the Missile Forces and Artillery of the Azerbaijani Army Major General Agamir Sultanov. The parties noted the positive dynamics in the development of bilateral cooperation, discussed the implementation of current military-technical projects and prospects for cooperation in this area, as well as other issues of mutual interest.

During May, in Ukraine there were some high-level statements, the meaning of which boils down to the fact that in the event of a new phase of the Russian-Ukrainian war, Minsk will not be able to maintain neutrality. Therefore, Ukraine does not exclude the possibility of aggravating the situation on the border with Belarus, although the situation is calm currently.

The preparation of the joint exercises of Russia and Belarus “West-2021” has entered an active phase and a number of joint exercises of special forces are planned from June. At the same time, according to the statements of Russia, in addition to the servicemen of Belarus and Russia, servicemen of other countries have also been invited to participate in “West-2021”. That is, the exercises can become truly multinational. The main goal is to achieve tactical compatibility of command and control bodies and troops in order to repel an attack of a simulated enemy and defeat them, not allowing further combat operations.

It is necessary to note the following events of the army’s combat training in May:

— the combat and mobilization readiness check in the 25th arsenal of missile and artillery weapons with the call-up of about 170 persons liable for military service to form a repair and restoration battalion in order to work out the repair of equipment in the field;

— a surprise combat readiness check of the missile forces, which involved subdivisions of Tochka-U tactical missiles, Polonaise, Smerch, Uragan multiple launch rocket systems, as well as up to 100 pieces of equipment and over 500 personnel in total;

— a training of radio and satellite communications specialists, which became a preparation for the Belarusian-Russian exercises “West-2021”;

— training in managing the formation of territorial troops (hereinafter referred to as TT) of the Minsk region in order to test the ability of local authorities (control groups for the TT formation of local executive committees) to independently form control TT bodies and units;

— training on territorial defence with officials of the administrations of the Minsk districts and military commissariats;

— research exercise “Covering areal objects from the impact of unmanned aerial vehicles and aircraft models” with the use of the latest and most advanced weapons of the Belarusian military-industrial complex for detection, electronic suppression and fire destruction of UAVs.

SMIC held the board meeting based on the results of the performance for the 1st quarter of 2021. In general, the announced data from period to period indicate a positive situation: the volume of industrial production amounted to 126.1% of January-March 2020; the profitability of sales in the SMIC organizations was ensured at the level of 20.6%; the growth rate of exports of goods and services amounted to 111%; the growth rate of wages is 108.9%. At the same time, the negative impact of European sanctions on the functioning of the enterprises that fell under them was recognized. Not all enterprises in the industry have met the planned economic indicators.

The Russian company “ODK-Klimov” plans to carry out medium repairs of its aircraft engines on the territory of the Orsha aircraft repair plant in Belarus. It is reported that the total fleet of helicopters with “ODK-Klimov” engines in Belarus accounts to more than 45 units.

The Belarusian authorities continue to shift responsibility for the current political crisis to the West. Thus, Prosecutor General Andrei Shved said that in 2020-2021 more than 80 active participants of neo-Nazi and ultra-right organizations were brought to justice in Belarus. He connected this with the fact that some external forces are trying to impose the ideas of Nazism on the Belarusian society. Due to this, the relevance of the fight against Nazism allegedly becomes especially relevant.

The prosecutor’s office continues to be active in countering protests. Thus, the prosecutor of the Mahiliou region, Aliaksandr Chadiuk, tspoke to the workers of the Chocimsk flax mill “… about the inevitability of responsibility for … participation in illegal mass actions”.

On the basis of the 72nd joint training centre, a representative of the prosecutor’s office of the Minsk region met with the sergeants. The meeting was dedicated to the maintenance of law and order in the troops.

Throughout May, Lukashenka regime, through military officials, continued to actively use anti-Western narratives from the arsenal of Russian propaganda. We have devoted a special material to this issue.

Conclusions. It is appropriate to consider the wave of the May repressions as part of the general plan.

The content of the document published as a result of the actions of Captain Dzianis Urad possibly damages the image of the army, but it could not cause any damage to national security or significant interests of the individual, society and the state. It is obvious that the verdict is a demonstrative politically motivated reprisal, an act of intimidation of other employees of the law enforcement agencies. The latter also applies to the deprivation of ranks of more than 80 ex-security officials. Many of them have been open about their political position for a number of years. The fact that the decision to deprive them of ranks has been made only now is an element of the regime’s propaganda campaign to intimidate current law enforcement officers and military personnel in order to ensure their loyalty and unquestioning obedience.

The attack on tut.by and the arrest of Raman Pratasevich is not so much an act of revenge as a warning to the opponents of the regime in Belarus: “If we did this to them (the largest media resource and an activist who was abroad), then we can easily do the same with smaller independent media and opponents of the regime inside the country”.

The fact that these actions are taking place at the time of the decline of mass protests means that the regime has reasons to take these steps, given all the consequences. This can be dictated both by certain processes in the state apparatus hidden from the public, as well as by intimidation of the people for the future, when the increased loyalty of the power and bureaucratic apparatus will be critically important. As well as control over the information field. Which can only be connected with a fundamental political / electoral campaign for the existing regime.

At the same time, the crackdown on tut.by is a classic shot of the regime to its own leg:

— The destruction of the officially registered structure, which, for all its inconvenience, operated within the framework of the legislation, opens up space, on the one hand, for foreign media, and on the other, for those national media that do not bind themselves to the restrictions of Belarusian legislation. As a rule, these media take a much tougher position in relation to the existing regime in Belarus.

— Tut.by tried to preserve the principle of neutrality and objectivity, giving the floor to representatives of the regime. Thus, ensuring that their argumentation is brought to a part of the protest majority of Belarusians. In some way it was a part of the regime’s information system. Now the regime does not have such a channel for reaching the “enemy” audience.

Judging by the meetings of SMIC head Dzmitry Pantus in Baku, the subject of negotiations was the results of the use of Belarusian-made equipment and weapons by the Azerbaijani army during the last war with Armenia. It could be both about additional purchases, and about making changes to products, taking into account the experience of their combat use. At the same time, the experience of cooperation between Azerbaijan and Belarus in the military-technical sphere and the use of Belarusian products by the Azerbaijani army influences the interaction between Minsk and Ankara in this area.

Statements about the possibility of an invasion of Ukraine from Belarus have been heard from Kyiv before. At the same time, they did not have a factual basis and were rather propagandistic or manipulative in nature. But recently, there is more evidence that in Ukraine they consider such a scenario as realistic. So, there is a concentration of all T-72 tanks of the Ukrainian army in the formations, which will have the task of countering the invasion from the Belarusian territory. This is due to logistical considerations (maintenance of a unified tank fleet). Note the fact that they will have to counter the same type of Belarusian tanks in the event of an armed confrontation. We have devoted a special material to the fact that this confrontation is probable.

It is highly likely that “West-2021” will be held in a format similar to the “Caucasus-2020” exercise. Of course, on a smaller scale. In case “West-2021” turns from a bi-national into a multinational exercise, this will be a serious blow to the symbolic capital of the Belarusian regime. Which for many years has used the thesis about the exclusivity of Belarusian-Russian cooperation in the field of security in order to obtain economic and political preferences from the Kremlin. The internationalization of the “West” will demonstrate that official Minsk is only one of a number of partners for Russia.

SMIC calculates the indicators of net profit and investments from its plan, and not in nominal terms or in relation to past periods. The plan can be either higher or smaller than last year’s indicators. At the same time, they avoid providing information in monetary terms, publishing only percentages from the plan and from the previous period.

The growth in industrial production of the military-industrial complex can be caused both by the gradual restoration of the functioning of the markets after the pandemic, and by additional orders of products. For example, from Azerbaijan to replenish military equipment spent during the Second Karabakh War.

It is also worth noting that SMIC avoids disclosing the share of borrowed funds in the payroll in 2021. This indirectly testifies to the difficult financial situation of a number of military-industrial complex enterprises.

It is worth noting that in the “ODK-Klimov” medium-sized aircraft engine repair project, the Belarusian partner is assigned only the role of providing space and support personnel for repairs. That is, there is no talk of transferring certain competencies. The Russian partner will get the main economic effect from the project as well.

The retransmission of anti-Western Russian narratives by Belarusian military officials is perceived in the West and in Ukraine as the Belarusian regime’s loss of foreign policy subjectivity, the inability to conduct an independent security policy and the transfer of this function to the Kremlin. Although, in fact, there is an attempt to enlist all-round Russian support by demonstrating the existence of common external threats and a common attitude towards them. In the current situation, such tactics results into the fact that in the foreign policy sphere the West and Russia will begin (or have already begun) discussions about Belarus without Belarus.

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