National security and defence of Belarus (May 2022)

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The most important events of the month. On May 16, 2022, the CSTO summit was held. Some observers expected even the entry of the CSTO member states into the Russian-Ukrainian war. However, nothing of the kind happened: the issue of involving the CSTO in the Russian war in Ukraine was not discussed. Moreover, there is a clear tendency for the CSTO countries to move away from Minsk and Moscow in their confrontation with the West and Ukraine. We have devoted a special article to this event.

Vladimir Putin, in particular, announced the equipping of the CSTO collective forces the with modern weapons and equipment, without specifying who will be the main donor of this project.

Aliaksandr Lukashenka called for solidarity with Russia on issues of relations with NATO, as well as tightening control over the information space of the CSTO countries. He stated that the United States is arming Ukraine in order to prolong the war and thus weaken Russia or expand the war to new participants.

It is interesting to note that Lukashenka tried to justify himself to his formal allies for facilitating the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Allegedly, military activity in Ukraine created direct threats to the security of Belarus.

A bilateral meeting between Putin and Lukashenka also took place. They discussed overcoming Western economic sanctions, transshipment of Belarusian cargo in Russian ports, cooperation in the military-industrial complex (in particular, joint work in the field of rocket science).

The developments within the month. On May 4, 2022, the Belarusian army began a sudden check of the reaction forces. Among other things, it was accompanied by the movement of units and the fulfilment of combat training tasks by them. The purpose of the event is to assess the readiness for prompt response to the emergence of crisis situations. Given the current situation in the region, the event added to the general nervousness and intensified fears of a possible involvement of Belarus in the war. Although the official Minsk denied such plans. At one of the stages of the training, the military trained the measures for technical suitability for use of weapons, military and special equipment contained in long-term storage in military units of combat, logistics and technical support. In Brest, units of the 38th Airborne Assault Brigade trained the actions in urban conditions with overcoming a water barrier.

On May 5, 2022, Lukashenka gave an interview to another Western media. One of the topics was the Russian invasion of Ukraine. During the interview he:

— declared the inadmissibility of the use of nuclear weapons during the current war in Ukraine.

— Immediately accused the West of escalating the conflict through the supply of weapons to Kyiv. He wondered why Russia did not strike at Western arms convoys.

— expressed confidence in Russia’s military victory. But at the same time he stated that the destruction of Ukraine and the loss of its territorial integrity are unacceptable. The threat to the statehood of Ukraine is not Russia that attacked it, but Poland, which helps to fight against the aggressor. And as a result, a situation may arise in which Ukraine, Belarus and Russia will, in one military alliance, oppose Poland in particular and the West in general.

— Reiterated that the Ukrainian leadership is not independent and is under the control of the West. The war was provoked by the Ukrainians, who were pushed to this by the United States. This war is beneficial for America and it will end if the Americans want it.

— At the same time, Lukashenka considers the level of Russian support for Minsk insufficient and states that there are no equal conditions for economic entities of Belarus and Russia.

On May 6, 2022, Minister of Foreign Affairs Uladzimir Makei said that the Russian-Ukrainian war should be resolved on the basis of a balance of interests of the three countries — Ukraine, Russia and Belarus with clear security guarantees for each of them.

On May 10, 2022, Chief of the General Staff of the Belarusian Army Viktar Hulevich announced the buildup of NATO’s military presence near the border of Belarus. Which, in his opinion, indicates a growing threat to Belarus. Therefore, as part of the second stage of checking the immediate reaction forces, battalion tactical groups were advanced to the Western (Polish) and Northwestern (Lithuanian) operational directions. Units of the Special Operations Forces were deployed in the Southern Operational Direction (Ukrainian).

On the same day, the head of the State Military Industry Committee Dzmitry Pantus announced that new missiles for the “Polonaise” and “Buk” complexes were being tested in Belarus. At the same time, the next stage of testing was to take place last month, and the another one in August. Pantus also reported on the finish of the modernization of the “Uragan” and “BelGrad” (modernized “Grad”) MLRS as well as the “Osa” air defense system. Part of the modernization, was obviously their transfer to the Belarusian wheelbase of Minsk Automobile Plant and Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant. The upgraded equipment will be gradually supplied to the army.

On May 19, 2022, Lukashenka announced that Belarus had purchased from Russia the necessary number of “Iskander” tactical missile systems and S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems.

On May 22, 2022, State Secretary of the Security Council Aliaksandr Valfovich said that sabotage and reconnaissance groups are entering Belarusian territory from Ukrainian territory. However, he did not provide any details. Lukashenka state propaganda did not use this topic.

On May 26, 2022, Lukashenka chaired a meeting at the Ministry of Defense of Belarus, dedicated to adjusting military development plans based on the findings from the current Russian-Ukrainian war. During the event the ruler stated that there was no need to carry out the previously planned expensive technical modernization of the army. The statement is all the more strange because, according to Lukashenka, the level of military threats to Belarus will increase in the future.

Lukashenka also stated that it is necessary to form the third Southern Operational Command of the Ground Forces. He linked this decision with the current Russian-Ukrainian war and the threats that allegedly come from the territory of Ukraine to Belarus.

In May, a number of events were held to prepare the system of territorial defense of Belarus:

— A training camp was held with the military reserve of the Minsk region territorial troops. During the event it was planned to form the headquarters of the territorial defense area, a separate rifle battalion of the territorial troops and to conduct combat coordination activities and command and staff exercises.

— An inspection of the territorial defense authorities under the leadership of the Chief of the General Staff of the Army took place, during which units of the territorial troops of the Lida and Kobryn regions were formed.

— A one-day training on territorial defense was held with the chairmen of the district executive committees and representatives of the military commissariats of the Minsk region.

— With the participation of the Minister of Defense of Belarus Viktar Khrenin, the annual meeting “Military Security and Defense of the State” was held with the participation of the chairmen of the regional and Minsk city executive committees, military commissars of the regions and Minsk. The main task was to increase the competence of regional officials in terms of organizing territorial defense.

Conclusions. The CSTO summit did not bring sensations, the formal allies once again demonstrated the discrepancy between the priorities of their security policy. The CSTO remains a typical post-Soviet association, which is the sum of the bilateral relations of its members with Russia, and not a coalition around common interests or challenges for all participants. At the same time, Moscow does not demonstrate the ability to impose its position on partners, even at the level of formulating general statements.

With regard to Ukraine, Lukashenka obviously has a very peculiar attitude: he would like to maintain its state unity within the borders of February 24, 2022, as a client state. Suzerainty over which would belong not only to Putin, but also to Lukashenka. A sort of co-ownership. It is worth paying attention to the long-term anti-Polish sentiments of Lukashenka. Obviously, dislike for Warsaw is not an emotional outburst, but a stable and constantly fuelled conviction.

The Lukashenka regime still does not lose hope of returning to regional politics as an autonomous/independent actor, using the factor of Russian aggression against Ukraine: whether it is in the format of a negotiating platform, a party to peace agreements or an “assistant” in the delivery of Ukrainian grain to the world market.

Regarding the new missiles for the “Polonaise” MLRS, we are obviously talking about precision-guided munitions with a launch range of 300 km:

— the first message about which was back in 2016;

— this missile was tested in 2017;

— work on the export of these weapons was carried out already in 2018;

— then there were the statements about the plans to create the Belarusian missile by September 2020.

Now there is hope (though, based on the history of the issue, very cautious) for creation of this missile in 2022.

With regard to the “Buk” air defense system, we are most likely talking about the 9M318 missile, which was introduced in May 2019. In February 2020, its first successful tests took place.

At the same time, there is no information yet that the announced tests of missiles for the “Polonaise” and “Buk” were carried out in May of this year.

A logical continuation of the transfer of Soviet weapons to the Belarusian automobile base would be the creation of a domestic wheeled self-propelled guns.

Lukashenka’s statements about the acquisition of the S-400 air defense system and the “Iskander” have not yet been objectively confirmed. Neither the Russian side nor the Belarusian Defense Ministry comment on the situation. It is quite possible that Lukashenka made a mistake: it could be about the existence of Russia’s consent in principle or even about agreeing on the terms for the supply of this weapon, but in the future.

Aliaksandr Valfovich, thanks to his rather regular statements, which are perceived by neighbouring countries as confrontational, plays the role of the “bad policeman” of the Lukashenka regime on the external track. This is a traditional practice for the official Minsk: previously, unnamed generals were listed as bad pro-Moscow “policemen”, who were opposed by the “pro-Western” good “policeman” head of the Foreign Ministry Uladzimir Makei. Now there has been a personification of the “dark side”: various kinds of anonymous commentators are actively promoting the narrative that Valfovich is almost a representative of the Kremlin in Belarus. In parallel, again promoting the thesis that it is Lukashenka who opposes the absorption of Belarus by Moscow. Gradually pushing to the conclusion that he needs help in this noble cause. For example, the easing of Western sanctions.

For the first time, intentions to form the Southern Operational Command of the Ground Forces were publicly announced on January 21, 2022. And the idea itself was worked out much earlier. It is impossible to form a new operational command by redistributing existing units due to their small number. It will be necessary to increase the number of troops and the cost of their maintenance, investments in infrastructure to accommodate new forces. The announced reduction in the cost of modernization plans for the Belarusian army is connected with this: the money will be used to form new units. But at the same time, this is a marker of the lack of Russian support (financial, logistical) in the amount that was expected in Minsk. As a result, it is necessary to choose priorities for financing.

At the same time, the idea of ​​creating the Southern Command has rather a military-bureaucratic logic, since it implies the creation of new leadership positions in the military administration system. With the big stars on shoulder straps due to them. It would be more rational:

— to abandon the geographical reference of the area of ​​responsibility of the existing operational commands;

— define one of them as an operational (quick response) and send additional personnel to complete its brigades to full staff;

— leave training and mobilization tasks for the second command.

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