Parade on July 3, 2018: what you should pay attention to

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On July 3, 2018 Minsk hosted the traditional military parade. The event is traditional, but this year had its own peculiarities — very curious ones.

Who wasn’t present? Last year, the Russian presence was limited to the delegation in the stands and participation in the air parade. Pskov paratroopers, which traditionally participated in the event since 2011, stayed at home. The reason is that servicemen of the 76th Airborne Division of Russia took part in the aggression against Ukraine, during which they suffered losses. In 2017, the Belarusian authorities were informed: either the presence of Western and Ukrainian diplomats, or the participation of the Pskov paratroopers. Then the diplomats were more important than the paratroopers. This year, the superiority was on the side of Russian soldiers. Therefore representatives of the EU countries, the USA and Ukraine ignored the event. In fact, this is a political démarche. But neither side raised any hype about it.

It is necessary to emphasize that the reason for the demarche is not in the Russian participation in the parade. Inviting allies to state ceremonies and rituals is a normal practice, including for the neighbouring NATO states. The problem is only and exclusively the invitation of the representatives of military formations, participating in an aggressive and illegal war.

The persistence with which the Belarusian side invites paratroopers from Pskov to participate in the parade is an interesting point. The formal reason is that this unit participated in the liberation of Belarus from the Nazis. But is it impossible to find another division of the Russian army that fought against the Germans in Belarus and wasn’t participating in the war against Ukraine? Even if it is so, what prevents Belarusian authorities from replacing the Pskov paratroopers with the representatives of the Russian military units that are a part of the Regional Group of Forces of the two countries? Or with the company of the honour guard of the Kremlin regiment? It was possible to choose such a format of Russian participation, which will not cause irritation to any of the neighbours.

Obviously, inviting Pskov paratroopers is a conscious decision. It is quite possible that the authorities counted upon the demarche of Western and Ukrainian diplomats. The reasons are easy to find. On the one hand, it is necessary to restore an acceptable level of trust in the Belarusian-Russian relations. The Belarusian authorities demonstrated to Moscow that, despite possible adverse political consequences, they remain a reliable and loyal ally of Russia. And are ready to “swim against the current” for its sake. On the other hand, the Belarusian think that relations with Minsk are too important for the Western capitals and Kyiv, that’s why there will be no practical consequences after such a symbolic step. The recent visits of the Presidents of Germany and Austria to Belarus even strengthened this opinion of the official Minsk.

The problem is that the latter is true only for relations with EU countries. But Kyiv’s response steps can be quite important. Especially in the financial sphere. In any case, the fact that of the possible options for Russian participation in the parade, the Belarusian authorities have chosen the least acceptable, clearly does not contribute to the development of Belarus’ relations with the West.

It is much worse if the Belarusian regime takes the latest positive steps in the dialogue with the West as a carte blanche in domestic politics. Unflagging pressure on civil society and the opposition, increasing pressure on the media and independent trade unions can be a sign of this. Here we seen a threat of returning to the traditional model of relations with the EU and the US — “escalation-de-escalation” — instead of the progressive development of cooperation.

The representatives of the Centre for Combat Training and Retraining of the Flight Force of the Army Aviation (Torzhok), the 47th Combined Air Regiment (Voronezh), and the 14th Fighter Aviation Regiment (Kursk) participated in the parade from the Air and Space Forces of Russia.

The new faces. For the first time, servicemen from China took part in the event. Formally, China is an ally in World War II. But in this case we are not talking about the tribute to history, but about the current policy.

A Chinese ceremonial unit was passing before the Russian one. Just like it should be according to alphabetical order. Nevertheless, the very fact is symbolic. In politics, the symbols are of great importance. Especially in Asia. And especially for politicians who are prone to vanity and avid for flattery. The head of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping is clearly one of them. The participation of Russian and Chinese servicemen should symbolize the strategic nature of relations between official Minsk with Moscow and Beijing. But the order of passing the ceremonial calculations, as it were, emphasizes which partner is more important and promising. Moreover, Aliaksandr Lukashenka himself in his speech called Russia a fraternal country, and China — a strategic partner. Just like a slip of the tongue: you can’t choose your relatives, but can choose your partners.

The problem is that Russia reacts extremely nervously to the Chinese penetration of the post-Soviet space, which is considered a zone of privileged interests by Moscow. As a result, the Belarusian authorities can face a negative reaction from three sides: from the West and Ukraine (about the format of Russian participation in the parade) and a bit later — from Russia, but about the Chinese.

What wasn’t present? In general, this year the number of equipment presented was smaller. For example, there were no “Cayman” armoured vehicles and communication systems. Perhaps this is due to the fact that last year Minsk hosted Milex weapons exhibition. A part of the exhibition samples was involved in the parade.

But two important weapons systems, which were not present, should be paid special attention to.

The first one is the upgraded T-72B3 tank. In June 2017, four tanks were first demonstrated during their transfer to the Belarusian army. Then it was announced that this was only the first batch of the tanks and the modernization would continue. It is obvious that at the current moment those four tanks are the only T-72B3 in Belarus. The most possible reason is the cost of the modernization package: USD 1.4 million for a tank proved to be unaffordable for the Belarusian military budget.

The second one is the S-300V surface-to-air missile systems. The last time they took part in the parade is 2016. The unit was operated by the 147th anti-aircraft missile brigade. However, last year the brigade became a regiment and was rearmed with the “Osa” missile defense system. Until then, the only compound that operated these weapons was the 740th anti-aircraft missile brigade. Previously, there was a 302-th brigade, which also had the “Osa”. This unit was disbanded within the framework of another “optimization”, and the armament was transferred to the 740th brigade. Which became the “donor” of weapons for the 147th regiment. After that, it turned into a 740th anti-aircraft missile regiment. Reforming the two brigades in the regiments is a sign of a shortage of weapons. It is simply impossible to form two brigade sets of the “Osa” SAMs.

There are still a number of questions:

— What is the reason for the rearmament of the 147th brigade? Is this the result of the technical inability to operate the S-300V?

— Where are currently at least three S-300V divisions from the 147th ex-brigade? There is no open information on their export, recycling or transfer to another unit at the moment.

Last year, UAV models were presented: an armed version of a light helicopter-type drones “BUR” by LLC “KB Indela” and aircraft type “BELAR YS-EX” from Aviatechsystems and “Grif-100” from the 558th Aircraft Repair Plant. At the same time, it was reported that the development of combat UAVs, both helicopter and airplane types, is already at practical stage. The fact that this year the above-mentioned unmanned aircraft was not present, makes the audience pay attention to other candidates for the role of the first combat UAV of the national army. But let’s speak about this below.

The new and not very new. Like the previous one, the current parade has become not only a demonstration of weapons and equipment that the army already has, but also of the capabilities of the Belarusian military-industrial complex.

There were not many new samples on the parade.

Chinese armoured cars “Dragon” were presented last year. Informal feedback on their operation is far from delight: the quality of assemble of the cars is not high-class. It’s no accident that when obtaining another batch of these armoured vehicles, the Belarusian military stressed that together with the vehicles they get a sufficient set of spare parts for their subsequent operation.

The presentation of the Belarusian modernization of the Soviet BTR-70 (BM1) as a new equipment is surprising: the vehicle is in service for the fifth decade and has a number of unavoidable design flaws. It should have been replaced to some new vehicles long ago. The fact that Belarus has somehow to modernize this equipment shows not the best economic state of the country.

“Burevestnik-MB” and “Busel-MB” by the National Academy of Sciences were represented as new combat UAVs. The first one is a “military” modification of the “Burevestnik” UAV, which was developed on the instructions of the Ministry of Emergencies to monitor extended areas of the terrain. It was planned that the Ministry of Emergencies will be equipped with these UAVs in 2015. However, judging by the fact that now it is planned to receive the “Burevestnik” in 2018, there were problems of a technical nature. Most likely, in the part of the control and data exchange system between the drone and the ground control station. Judging by the available photo and video footage, “Burevestnik-MB” exists in the form of two technology demonstrators with the numbers “07” and “08”, which are “wandering” from one exhibition to another.

“Busel-MB”, which is presented as an unmanned bomber, is obviously a variation of the “Busel-M50” UAV. It is, perhaps, too bold to call it a bomber.

Obviously, both “Burevestnik-MB” and “Busel-MB” has questionable prospects to become a platform for a combat UAV. Currently, the developer — the Academy of Sciences, is preparing for testing a heavier UAV “Yastreb”, capable of carrying a large load and having a long flight time. But the range of the communication channel remains the same as for “Burevestnik” — up to 300 km. It is planned that the first flight of the “Yastreb” will be completed this year.

During the parade, the self-propelled robotic anti-tank missile system “Bogomol” and its variation with machine guns “Kentavr” were demonstrated. They were immediately called “robots”, although they are not ones. They are remote-controlled platforms with the ability to program the route. “Bogomol” was presented a year ago at the exhibition Milex. It is more a technology demonstrator. The fact that in Belarus they work on the topic of ground impact unmanned platforms is certainly a positive development. But this direction, as foreign experience shows, is technically difficult and there should not be a quick result there.

Speaking of the really new weapons handed over to the national army, only “Nona-M1” towed mortars (produced in Russia), costing less than USD 200 thousand, were presented.