National Security and Defense Situation (April 2014).

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The most important events of the month. On April 22, 2014 Alexander Lukashenko delivered his annual address to the National Assembly. A number of provisions in his speech deserve to be discussed.

The Belarusian leader has noted change in the geopolitical situation around Belarus associated with the end of the post-Soviet era. Independence is called the main value (“immense intrinsic value”). According to A. Lukashenko, Belarusian independence annoys a lot of countries. There are attempts to undermine the situation in favor of “external forces”. From the rest of address we may conclude that he bears in mind both Russia and the Western countries. The Belarusian leader stated that he does not believe in the possibility of partnership between him (Lukashenko) and the Western countries.

Having repeated the myth of the common historical roots of the Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians, the Belarusian leader stated that this unity is in the past, and now every nation is worth its own statehood.

The willingness of the regime to suppress any attempt «to undermine the situation» (i.e. to organize the protests) was confirmed. However, A. Lukashenko instructed the intelligence agencies to suppress the activity of the pro-Russian chauvinist forces in Belarus.

The Alliance with Russia keeps a strategic character, but any integration is possible only on the basis of equality, voluntariness and observance of the interests of Belarus. 

More attention in speech was devoted to the problem of corruption. A. Lukashenko separately identified the facts of abuse in the judiciary, the KGB (initiation of criminal proceedings against a number of leaders of the KGB in the Gomel region), law enforcement agencies (Ministry of Internal Affairs, Investigative Committee, customs and border authorities). This part of speech was not only the longest but also the most emotional: it is obvious that the problem of corruption in the state apparatus and security officials seriously worries Lukashenko. Especially in the light of the Ukrainian events that he emphasized earlier. He stated that corruption and abuse are birthmarks of power and control structures. This is perhaps the most rigid formulation of all previously given to them.

A. Lukashenka told about the need to reform the public administration system. He acknowledged the problems with the staffing of the state apparatus and its lack of professionalism. Promise was made before the end of the year to review the powers of officials downwards. Separately, A. Lukashenko highlighted the problem of apathy and indifference of civil servants and managers of state companies in carrying out their duties. And made it clear that each step is controlled by high-ranking officials in details (obviously, by the secret services).

Having stopped reading the text of the speech, A. Lukashenko unusually devoted much attention to healthy lifestyle, nutrition and weight loss. Apparently, this topic is relevant to him personally. However, the health state of the Belarusian leader is the main state secret.

A small sensation was the recognition of the fact by A. Lukashenko that Belarusian secret services have been working in Ukraine during the current crisis. The Belarusian intelligence services are busy tracking the situation in the neighboring country and around.

Dynamics of the month. Following April it can be argued that the Belarusian authorities are trying to extract the most out of the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation. Under the conditions of occupation of the Crimea, it is a matter of principle for Kiev to impose an embargo on military-technical cooperation with Russia. It is demanded by public opinion. But the Ukrainian defense industry requires money, and they come from Russia.

The official Minsk is ready to offer itself as an assembly platform for Ukrainian defense industry. The Belarusian authorities are trying to mediate in the supply of military equipment, in which the Russian consumers are interested. Apparently, Moscow and Kiev seem to be not against such options. Thus, on April 01, 2014 in Minsk the Deputy Chairman of the Government of Russia Dmitry Rogozin told about their interest in developing cooperation with Belarusian military-industrial complex “taking into account the new situation in Ukraine”.

And the next day, on April 02, 2014 Alexander Lukashenko set the task to organize production in Belarus of airplanes and helicopters at production facilities of OJSC “Orsha Aircraft Repair Plant”, owned by Ukrainian helicopter corporation “Motor Sich”. This was followed by the statement of need to expand cooperation with Ukraine in the sphere of military-industrial complex as a whole. According to Alexander Lukashenko “this is the right moment for this”. And they need to use this opportunity to set up production of new products, including the Russian market.

There were also statements regarding the prospects for the national Air Forces. At present it is confirmed that modernization of ten MiG-29 fighters has started. It will affect the control system, the sighting system and the armament system. The plane will expand opportunities in the part of hitting the ground targets. Upgrading heavy Su-27 is scheduled at the end of the first stage. However, the agreement is still under way: as stated by Alexander Lukashenko, after upgrading the first ten aircrafts we will upgrade “apparently (!) Ten more”. The question of modernization of Su-25 strike aircrafts, as reported in January this year, is still a point of discussion.

Then the Belarusian leader talked about the necessity to produce national armored vehicles based on the already existing developments. This statement contradicts with the Russia’s attempts to unify the weapons of the CSTO countries, based on exactly the Russian models.

Later, the head of the State Military-Industrial Committee Sergei Gurulyov explained they were talking about light armored vehicles for reconnaissance and special operations forces. It can be created mainly on their own (except weapons). Development of domestic aircraft industry is so far limited to production of components for foreign aircraft manufacturers.   

Ukraine and Russia are not the only countries, with which Minsk wants to increase military-technical cooperation. On April 17, 2014 the Ambassador of India to Belarus Manoj Kumar Bharti confirmed his country’s interest in further development of cooperation with Belarus in the field of defense. Judging according to the diplomat, currently it primarily takes the form of modernization by the Belarusian specialists of Soviet and Russian military equipment, which is in service of the Indian military forces.

On April 04, 2014 Alexander Lukashenko appointed Colonel Oleg Chernyshev as Deputy Chairman of the Belarusian KGB. Thus, the KGB is formed in its entirety. We recall that at the beginning of September 2013 the deputy Chairman of KGB Maj. Gen. L. Dedkov was dismissed, and since then his post remained vacant. O. Chernyshev is the only non-general of the number of deputy chairmen in the KGB. In the near future we may expect assigning the rank of general to him.

The Afghan issue remains relevant to the national security. Thus, the CSTO is preparing to the end of the ISAF mission in Afghanistan. In this connection the organization allocates four groups of potential risks:
— risk of destabilization of the situation in Afghanistan;
— risk of creation on its territory of various armed extremist groups bases, centers of ideological influence on the population of the Central Asian countries and, as a consequence, activation of the Islamists in these countries;
— risk of creation of training centers for militants;
— risk of expansion of drug trafficking in the CIS countries.

The risk of a major invasion from Afghanistan is not considered as likely. However, local attempts of armed groups to break to the territory of Tajikistan pose a major threat and are already observed. And their number is growing rapidly. The trespassers have different targets: both political and criminal, related to drug trafficking.

Drug trafficking is a priority for CSTO. This is due to the fact that Russia is currently the largest consumer of heroin in the world: there are 1.7 million of drug addicts in the country, and their number is increasing annually by 80 thousand people; 30 thousand people die every year from overdose. In this regard, within the framework of CSTO a Center for special anti-drug operations is created, which will focus on prevention of the Afghan drug mafia coordination.

In development of the topic for the meeting of the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the CIS, which took place in the beginning of April in Moscow the agreement was reached to provide systematic assistance to Tajikistan in order to strengthen security along the border with Afghanistan. Belarus was one of the first to respond to this request of Dushanbe and has donated a party of military-technical assistance.

Concern over the situation in Afghanistan has been confirmed in the course of the working meeting of representatives of border agencies of CIS countries, which took place in April. The priorities of the Commonwealth are to strengthen the border security at the external borders of the CIS, as well as to exchange information about the situation there.

Throughout the month, the second stage of Belarusian Army readiness check was held. It is not yet reported on the expected date of completion of the event.

It is interesting that the number of military units marched at a distance, only slightly smaller than the distance from their areas of deployment to the border with Russia.

In April during the second stage of the unit battle readiness verification the following activities were practiced:
— Search, blocking and destruction of illegal armed groups (hereinafter IAGs), sabotage and reconnaissance groups (hereinafter referred to as SRGs);
— Transfer of troops over long distances in terms of sabotage activity;
— Covering the state border, including repelling of SRGs and IAGs breakthrough;
— Location of command points on the territory, equipment and operation of checkpoints across the state border, administration of searching, blocking and destruction of SRGs and IAGs;
— Use of artillery units in destruction of the blocked enemy forces.
— Maintenance of the martial law regime, performance of duty at checkpoints, interaction with the interior troops of the MIA in the settlements, protection and defense of important objects to repel an attack of SRGs and sabotage consequences recovery together with emergency services;

All these skills would be very useful to Ukrainian law enforcement agencies during the current anti-terrorist operation in the south-east of the country.

We should also highlight the joint exercises of the 120th Mechanized Brigade and the units of the interior troops of MIA for special tasks (maintenance of special military operations) in the settlement. The latter are essentially counterinsurgency, anti-sabotage actions, suppression of armed insurgencies or similar actions of our forces against the enemy. The schemes of joint patrols of military soldiers and interior troops of MIA on the city streets and maintaining the curfew were worked out. The participants were trained to perform duty at checkpoints, inspect the incoming transport, as well as practice the joint solution of problems in the event of riot.

During the exercises military actions were worked out in the event of capture of administrative buildings by a group of aggressive people, who have tried to hold an unsanctioned rally on the square.

On April 15, 2014 Beijing hosted a meeting of the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Belarus Oleg Belokonev with the Deputy Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the PRC Colonel-General Xu Qilian and other Chinese military officials. The prospects of the long-term bilateral cooperation were discussed. The Belarusian military leader expressed hope for further increase of interaction between the two countries in the field of defense. It should be noted that the Belarusian news agencies have not reported about the meeting for some reason.

Another intrigue of the month is the telephone conversation between A. Lukashenko and the Prime Minister Donald Tusk, which details first appeared on the news agencies, and then was promptly removed. The subject of conversation was the situation in Ukraine and the need for joint efforts to prevent the development of the crisis according to the dramatic scenario.  

Conclusions. The April’s message by A. Lukashenko was perhaps the most interesting for many years both in content and conclusions. The message contains many correct words about preservation of national unity and the reform of public administration, social and economic sectors. However, the words do not always mean actions. The message was written by some people, and the public affairs are managed by the other. And we are not sure, if their opinions coincide. 

The duration of the anti-corruption block of speech by A. Lukashenko on April 22, 2014 indicates that the situation in this area is becoming intolerable. And the law enforcement agencies already cannot be regarded as a healthy part of the system of public administration.

The fact that the defense issues in the address were given little attention is a testament to the unwillingness of excess stressing the issue of military threat. Otherwise, sooner or later we’ll have to answer, who is the likely aggressor. That’s why the regime shows a more restrained rhetoric on the revitalization of NATO in the region.

Speaking about the plans of the national defense industry to replace the Ukrainian products for Russia, it should be noted that this is possible only under one condition: if there is appropriate support from the Ukrainian colleagues. I.e. if the assembly of the substantially Ukrainian products is organized in Belarus and labeled as “Made in Belarus” for the following sale in Russia. The idea of importing Ukrainian technologies and developments to the Belarusian production sites is promising. However, the additional backroom negotiations with the authorities in Kiev are needed, so that the Ukrainian arms embargo does not spread on Belarus in the light of the coming change in the leadership of the neighboring country. With all our sympathy for Ukraine, Belarus cannot do much to support the neighboring state. In this case, the position of the Belarusian authorities defends the national interests of the country.

In general, we may state that the status of an intermediary in the supply of the Ukrainian military-industrial complex products to Russia and regular loud statements about indestructible military-political alliance with Russia are focused on the one thing, i.e. to increase the importance of Belarus as a partner for the Kremlin. And not only in the hope of Minsk for more financial and economic preferences from Moscow. The reason for this behavior is seen in the clear threat of continuing aggressive actions by Russia in relation to other post-Soviet countries. In fact, in the lowest level of security is found in three countries: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Belarus. They have a common border with Russia, but do not have solid international security guarantees, which may be given only to participants of military-political blocks. In our case NATO. By virtue of the age of the head of state, presence of hydrocarbon resources in comparison with the narrowing resource base of similar raw materials in Russia, Kazakhstan is found in the most dangerous situation. By leaving the CIS, Georgia emerged from this symbolic strategic zone of the Russian influence.

During the whole month A. Lukashenko repeatedly returned in his rhetoric to the negative experience of Ukraine in terms of inability to repel Russia, the closest ally of Belarus. It seems that the official Minsk hopes that Moscow will still receive a tough response. In the report of the telephone conversation between A. Lukashenko and Aleksander Turchynov about the situation in the country the gunmen, who have seized Slavyansk were correctly called terrorists. It is favorable for our country that Russia will have any points of tension, not associated with Belarus. Ukraine is one of them. The next one may occur in Central Asia. In this case, Russia may run out of power to put pressure on Belarus. But it may run out of resources to support it as well.

There is now a tacit consensus among the majority of the opposition and the authorities in the sense that Russia is a threat. This further reduces the likelihood of mass protests during the upcoming presidential elections: most opposition leaders fear that political destabilization may be used by Moscow.

The beginning of modernization of MiG-29 of the national air forces may have economic effect, spurring the interest of foreign customers. Currently negotiations are held with a foreign country on modernization of such equipment. The contract may be signed this year, work will be carried out on the 558th aircraft repair plant in Baranovichi.

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