National Security and Defense Situation (March 2014).

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The most important events of the month. The key event of the month for Belarus became Russian invasion to Ukraine and occupation of the Crimea. Russia demonstrated willingness to waive its guarantees of security and territorial integrity, given to the former Soviet states, by invading to the territory of its neighboring friendly (though not union) state. This came as a real surprise for official Minsk and there are certain grounds to believe that it brought Belarusian government into confusion.

Russian-Belarusian opposition resulted in a series of declarations and steps on the part of Belarusian government.

As a result of non-sufficient influence the opposition made only a few convicting statements blaming Russia and calling for keeping distance from Moscow.

It’s interesting to point out that after annexion of the Crimea the Belarusian government either directly or through mass media have rudely criticized the Ukrainian armed forces for being passive in resisting the Russians. 

On March 24, 2014 Alexander Lukashenko has spoken with the Chairman of Committee for State Security Valery Vakulchik. According to openly declared statements, the main issue for discussion was the situation in Ukraine.

Dynamics of the month. Belarusian-Chinese military and political cooperation is developing. On March 04, 2014 Head of Belarusian Department of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Makey and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of China Cheng Guoping have shared opinions on the state of affairs in CIS. The interest of PRC to the former Soviet republics is evident. But it’s difficult to explain why they discuss it with Belarus, when there are PRC embassies in all CIS countries. It could be supposed that during the Belarusian-Chinese consultations those issues are touched upon, which may not be studied by the diplomatic personnel of PRC in the countries of their location. For example, the international law, which restricts the “curiosity” of diplomatic personnel. In this case, the reason for visiting Belarus on November 01, 2013 by the Member of Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, Secretary of Political and Legal Commission of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, Member of State Council of PRC Meng Jianzhu, is clearly related to the offer of A. Lukashenko regarding “improvement of cooperation in the field of secret information exchange security”.

On March 12, 2014 the Belarusian Minister of Defense Yuri Zhadobin met military and air forces attaché of PRC in Belarus Sheng Yuezhong. In particular, it was discussed that China is going to provide military assistance free of charge. The content of such assistance was not detailed, but the fact itself is interesting.

Since March 05, 2014 the second shift of Russian fighter planes took duties in Belarus. It consists of fighter planes Su-27P as well as the first one.

On the same day in Moscow in the joint headquarters of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (hereinafter referred to as CSTO) the meeting of the Military Committee at the Council of Ministers of Defense of member states took place. Among other things the possibility of creating the Single (Unified) Air Defense System of CSTO was discussed. Such necessity is not evident: the unified system of air defense of the CIS countries, Unified regional groups of air defense between Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia already exists.

On February 10, 2014 after the end of the first stage of operability test for the Armed Forces from 4 until 6 of March, the first stage of command and staff military game of Air Forces was held. Performance of the second stage of this event was planned for April. It should be pointed out that discussion of the preliminary results of the first stage of operability test for the Belarusian Armed Forces by the Security Council was carried out more than in a month after having been finished no March 12, 2014.

The State Secretary of the Security Council General-Mayor Aleksander Mezhuyev held a speech in course of the session. He reported about the results of unplanned control of the Armed Forces of Belarus. Although these results were not disclosed to the public, it was recognized that specific omissions and disadvantages were revealed.

In course of the session of the Security Council A. Lukashenko demanded to assure transfer to Belarus of additional Russian fighter aircrafts in connection with accumulation of the NATO’s presence by the borders of our country. It was announces about the measures to enhance air defense. The same day within the frameworks of control of the interaction program within the Belarusian-Russian Common regional air defense system it was decided to relocate additional Russian fighter aircrafts to Belarus. And already the next day 6 fights Su-27SMZ and three military-transporting aircrafts with the crew were relocated to the airfield in Bobruysk. On March 15, 2014 Russian aircraft of early radar warning A-50 landed at the air field in Baranovichi. This kind of aircrafts have been assigned to our country several times. But considering the last events in Ukraine it is observed quite ambiguously: the machine may be used for reconnaissance in the sky of Ukraine from the territory of Belarus.

Further parameters of Russia air presence was connected by Belarusian authorities with the NATO actions. However later the grade of anti-NATO rhetoric was rapidly reduced.

Also during the session of the Security Council A. Lukashenko stated that Belarus has no fundamental grounds for the revolution similar to Ukrainian. And mostly important — corruption. This is quite a courageous declaration. Naturally corruption in Belarus has not reached the scale of Ukrainian, but A. Lukashenko personally has repeatedly listed it as one of the greatest danger to the country. Except for that is suffering from financial-economic crisis; accumulates technological retardation in comparison even with medium-developed countries of the world which results in low competitive ability of domestic economy; legitimacy of the power is challengeable and is not recognized by a significant part of the society; the country has no allies within foreign arena; the existing system of state governing has outlived, and the authorities do not demonstrate abilities and readiness to reforms. Evident is development of all prerequisites for the collapse of the existing state system. Difference from Ukraine is about underdeveloped political and Mass Media infrastructure, as well as small interest of foreign players, which could have influence the situation inside of the country. But the later fact is not the merit of the power, but the result of the peripheral status of Belarus within international arena. The regime should not be self-delusional – the truth may hurt. After December of 2010 our country has been in a system crisis with the trend of getting deeper.

On March 13, 2014 The CSTO General Secretary Nikolay Bordiuzha reported on acute matter of performance by Russia of its obligations to equipment the Collective Rapid Reaction Forces (hereinafter CRRF with modern samples of armament and military machinery on the ground of the program adopted in 2011. Obviously CRRF re-armament the CSTO member-states have delegated to Russia completely, considering it to be the most involved party interested in the existence of the block. At the moment Russian budget does not provide significant resources on armament of its allies. The need to take the costs can seems even more doubtful for Russia considering that no CSTO “ally” has expressly supported it within the conflict in Ukraine. Which once again proves the statement about mainly formal character of all associations within the post-Soviet area.

In Belarus it is planned to cancel the procedure of admission to the universities of military structures, giving the priority to motivated applicants (graduates from military and cadet schools; grounding on the recommendations of the military units).

Evidently it can be caused only by two reasons:
— dissatisfactory “quality” of the applicants;
— lack of applicants succeeding at exams.

Military students with experience of army service or studying in military schools adapt better to live observing the rules, than civilians. And they are more motivated to make carrier in defense and law enforcement agencies.

Additional steps to improve the situation about staffing of the universities of defense and law enforcement agencies with students may include relaxation of requirements to health parameters and the score of the applicants’ educational certificates. There are three main characteristics of potential students: moral and psychological readiness to service and sufficient health status. It’s worth noting that health requirements to the persons admitted to military or equivalent service almost have not changed from the times of the Soviet Union. As a result about 1/3 of the intake are recognized as not non-effective, meanwhile in South Korea such group constitutes no more than 10%.

On March 14, 2014 the Commander-in-Chief of the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus General-Mayor Yury Karayev stated that the security-staff of some categories of penitentiary institutions and alcoholism compulsory treatment institutions shall be delegated to the Department of Corrections of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. At this cost the manpower shall be redistributed in those subdivisions involved in law enforcement. Also at the cost of internal reserves of the Ministry formed shall be a military unit for the nuclear power plant protection. The highly prepared personnel after a thorough selection shall be chosen. 

On March 17, 2014 the Commander-in-Chief of the Air Forces of Russia Viktor Bondarev made a number of statements regarding the prospects of air-base establishment in our country. Thus he named Baranovichi to the place “of our air-base location”. However there is officially still only a fighter’s base of the national Air Forces; there is no information that the airdrome has changed the status. It’s worth noting that Belarus initially wanted for military aircrafts of the two countries to base separately to prevent tension caused by the difference in the amount of compensations.

Further: Bondarev stated that Russian airbase plans to locate 24 fighters Су-27SMZ. It means that almost all machines of this type are planned to be transferred to Belarus.  For Air Defense their capabilities are evidently extra, in practice we are talking about offensive aircrafts. It’s easy to predict the reaction of neighbor states on locations of a big (within the scale of the region) grouping of offensive forces. And it’s not only about NATO, but also about Ukraine. Whether Minsk will take such risk is not clear. In general the statements of Bondarev seems to be pretty rough. The story with the airbase demonstrates that Moscow attempts to act towards Minsk in the manner of order. We can’t talk about any allied relations at all.

In March revealed was another spy scandal between Belarus and Poland. This way, for the activity incompatible with diplomatic status, the military attaché of Belarus Dmitry Zhukov was deported from Warsaw. According to the local Mass Media he attracted attention of Polish counterintelligence services by the search of contacts with Air Forces veterans, military men in retirement, the members of youth military-patriotic organizations. Also it was known that about two years before a Belarusian agent had been uncovered for disinformation of Polish secret services during a long period of time. Probably it is a more serious loss than extradition of the attaché. Moreover that the specificity of military attaché’s activity and information of their interest is known. Another thing is that the methods of such information obtaining can vary, including not really legal ways. 

Later Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs acknowledged the arrest of two Belarusian citizens in Poland blamed in espionage. Counterintelligence of the Agency of Internal Security arrested the second Belarusian resident, who gathered information about military facilities and worked for military intelligence services of Belarus. He visited Poland often, earlier he had studies there within a scholarship program of the Polish Government. It is not known when he was arrested, but it has happened recently.

In March the company KB INDELA launched industrial production of the complexes of air reconnaissance and monitoring with unmanned aerial vehicles of helicopter type I.N.SKY. According to the administration of the company within the CIS states currently it is the only industrial production of UAVs of such type. Earlier the company has performed single supplies of unmanned complexes for foreign customers.

On March 23, 2014 A. Lukashenko for the second time for a month made a number of statements regarding current situation in national security and defense. 

Thus he said that there was no need in location of 24 Russian aircrafts, which has been specified by the Commander-in-Chief of the Air Forces of Russia Bondarev. Although Lukashenko personally was not against it and he would even welcome it. Which should be understood as: official Minsk does not wish to accumulate Russian military presence. Answering the question about the periods of Russian aircrafts presence within Belarusian territory, Lukashenko stated that it would depend only on the will of Belarus, i.e. personally on his wish. The statement is too categorical: the opinion of V. Putin on this matter should not be ignored. Moreover that the bilateral agreement on oil supplies to Belarus in the second half of 2014 has not yet been concluded.

Traditionally the forces of special missions and air defense have been called as the priorities of defense promotion. But if weakening of general-purpose forces shall go on, it’s not clear who shall protect these air defense systems.

A. Lukashenko confirmed chargeable character of 4 divisions of C-300 surface to air complexes promised yet in 2011.

Development of national Air Forces is connected by Belarusian government with hopes on supplies of new machinery from Russia. According to A. Lukashenko more than a year ago he addressed Russia with a favor to forward 10 aircrafts in Belarus. Although in autumn of 2013 he asked “… two dozens”. Russian fighters in Belarus are in disposal of Belarusian command, but Minsk would like to have the aircrafts without Russian crews.

Declared was about the plans to modernize 10 Belarusian Su-27 and MiG-29 till the end of the current year. For a prospect up to 2025 Belarusian power hopes to operate Soviet aviation heritage further.

The Chairman of the State Frontier Committee of Belarus Leonid Maltsev in course of the meeting on border security assurance within the territory of Vitebsk region declared about the need of close interaction of the frontier men with local authorities and divisions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.  Considering that earlier such meetings has been held in Gomel, Brest and Grodno regions the matter of lack of mutual understanding between local officials, police and State Frontier Committee was present and it was pretty serious. Most likely the reason is about traditional for Belarusian managing system attempts to delegate responsibility for this or that area to other bodies of the power.

On March 3, 2014 A. Lukashenko signed an order to eliminate military prosecutor’s offices. The event was expected after the adopted decision to eliminate military courts. In general this shall not affect maintenance of order in troops. The main routine load is burdened to the bodies of military counterintelligence of KGB.

Belarus provided to Tajikistan monetary and technical assistance in the amount of USD 3 mln to enhance protection of the border with Afghanistan. Considering that the decision of granting the aid to Tajikistani border troops was adopted in September of 2013, our country has become the first CIS state responding to the call for help of Dushanbe.

Conclusions. In reality Minsk feels sympathy for the Crimea in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. But as a result of critical financial and economic dependence from Russia, the Belarusian government may not allow to break relations with Russia. In this connection all anti-Western declarations of the official Minsk are aimed at calming the Kremlin and demonstrating that despite Minsk does not support invasion of Russia into Ukraine, it remains the reliable partner of the Kremlin in the field of European security. It is likely that the Belarusian government is trying to use the strengthening of the anti-Western mood in the Russian upper layers to provide additional financial support from Russia. Lukashenko is trying to reach the most effective financial result out of this situation, in which V. Putin found himself alone. Earlier due to the improved relations between Russia and the Western countries Minsk was not able to hold itself as the last bastion of Russia on the Western direction. The current situation is favorable for the attempts to gamble on the phobia of the part of Russian political circles. The main task here is not to overact: otherwise the illusory prospects of bridge building with the West may be at risk.

Compared to the opposition the regime may not allow itself tough declarations, but it made certain conclusions from the Ukrainian situation. And not only in the part of killing any possible protests ahead of the coming presidential elections or strengthening security at the Belarusian-Ukrainian border. We may expect active efforts of the Belarusian government on eliminating the Russian influence. It is hard to judge how real it is now to cut off from Russia on a political level, but the control over pro-Russian organizations and independent entities, which cooperate with official and nominally non-governmental entities of the neighboring country, will grow. The second possible direction is work on returning the lost control over the national informational field. Especially, on the Internet.

It is hard to tell, how successful this activity will be, but the conclusions made by the government based on the information attacks against Ukraine are correct in general. The question is in the regime’s ability not only to recognize the challenges, but effectively to respond on them.

The official Minsk is obviously trying to act based on the situation depending on the situation development. This may be due to the fact that the Belarusian side is not aware of the plans of Moscow. Therefore, it is impossible to carry out long-term planning of actions during the current aggravation of the situation in the region. However, Belarus increasingly becomes a frontline state, surrounded by the countries not friendly and with the official authorities on the three sides and by unreliable, unpredictable and the most importantly «ally» in the East.

It is worth noting that the military rhetoric of the Belarusian authorities on the situation in Ukraine has changed. Russian aggression against the neighboring country influenced the public opinion in Belarus. Apparently, the Belarusian authorities decided to use national defense and security issues as well as anti-corruption issue in the campaign of Alexander Lukashenko during the coming presidential elections. Due to poor economic policy the regime cannot take advantage of the socio-populist rhetoric as in previous political campaigns. We can only play on the fears of voters such as the threat of possible destabilization of the situation in Belarus and external interference, as well as dissatisfaction with the growth of corruption. In this regard, is not necessary to talk about the militarism attack in Minsk: so the most of strong declarations are caused by the domestic political calendar.

The initiative to create a unified system of air defense (CSTO) is another attempt of Moscow to put the defense potential of post-Soviet CIS countries under its full control. The mechanism is as follows: creation of a single command center under the Russian leadership with all or main national defense forces of the participating countries subordination. Moscow is instead to provide some assistance in equipping and development of defense infrastructure of the participants. However, Russia will invest only in those projects that are primarily needed by Russia. Belarusian experience shows that this is airfield infrastructure, control of airspace and air defense, but in a rather limited scale.

Traditional failure in performance of agreements and inconsistency of leaders of the post-Soviet states allow us to consider that these plans will remain only plans. It is enough to say that rearmament of RRF CSTO is very slow. Creation of a unified air defense system, missile defense will require much higher costs. As for supply of military aircraft to CSTO countries, we should not rely on Russia. Moreover, the financial opportunities of Moscow are being reduced. And it is rather a long-term trend.

Thus it is likely that rearmament of RRF CSTO will be extended for an unlimited and long period, and it is possible that at some time it will simply lose its relevance. This does not exclude that Russia will support the CIS countries with weapons and military equipment supplies, but on a bilateral basis. 

We can assume that the weakest link in the course of the first phase of test readiness of the Belarusian Armed Forces became the territorial defense units formed in Miory district, Vitebsk region. This follows from the fact that mobilized reservists had limited time to restore military skills. The second problem could be the quality of control by the local officials of the territorial civil defense. It is doubtful that they were good combatant commanders: too different fields of activity. And everyone should be engaged in that business for which he is professionally prepared: officers should command, officials should administrate civil processes.

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