Situation in national security and defence (September 2020)

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The most important events of the month. Belarus and Ukraine entered a period of political confrontation. So far it stays at the level of political statements. It should be noted that in this case the blame for this lies entirely with the official Minsk, which groundlessly accused Ukraine of destabilizing the political situation in Belarus. On September 4, 2020 Foreign Minister of the neighboring country Dmitry Kuleba said that Kyiv will respond proportionally to the unfriendly actions and statements of the Belarusian authorities. The forum of the regions of the two countries, at which the presence of Lukashenka and Zelensky was planned, was canceled. Further, Ukraine, albeit in a vague form, declared that it did not recognize the legitimacy of the presidential “elections” held in Belarus on August 9, 2020.

The developments within the month. On September 3, 2020 Aliaksandr Lukashenka made changes in the command of law enforcement agencies of Belarus. Thus, the head of the State Security Committee (SSC) Valery Vakulchyk was transferred to the post of the Security Council State Secretary. Formally, this is a demotion. Moreover, Lukashenka himself, in an interview with Russian propagandists, said that this was a punishment for the SSC head for the July story with the Wagner troops. However, it is worth recalling that Lukashenka personally was the main initiator of publicizing this situation. Simulating the specter of the Russian threat, he tried to play on the field of the patriotic electorate and enlist the West’s indulgence for post-election repression. There is nothing to punish Valery Vakulchyk for. His demotion can be explained in another way. We devoted a separate material to this topic.

On September 7, 2020 Lukashenka met the Chairman of the Investigative Committee Ivan Naskevich. According to the latter, the crime rate in the country has decreased by about 8% compared to the previous year. But the structure of crime has changed: the proportion of crimes in the field of information technology has grown by about one and a half times.

On September 10, 2020 Lukashenka dismissed the Prosecutor General of Belarus Aliaksandr Kaniuk and instead of him appointed Andrei Shved, who headed the State Forensic Expertise Committee.

The significance of the event is evidenced by the fact that Lukashenka personally introduced the new Prosecutor General to the team on September 10, 2020. During a meeting with prosecutors, the Belarusian ruler made a number of statements:

— Belarus should return to socio-political stability this year (that is, suppress any public protests).

— The prosecutor’s office does not show due zeal in suppressing popular discontent and it is required to take some “more powerful … measures of the prosecutor’s response to such actions”.

— Belarus faced external intervention, therefore “sometimes we shouldn’t think about the laws”, although the situation is not so acute yet. At the same time, it was stated that the prosecutors and their children “… will live in this country and in the new Belarus.”

Lukashenka advised prosecutors who do not agree with his methods of governing the country to leave their positions.

In response, the newly appointed Prosecutor General promised to justify confidence and strengthen the fight against protests in Belarus, which in the official language are called “manifestations associated with violation of public order”. Mr. Shved promised to mobilize and force (!) responsible structures to intensify their activity in this direction. All this is for the sake of “preserving the country’s independence and sovereignty”.

On September 11, 2020, the General Prosecutor’s Office demanded that state bodies intensify their activities, calling things by their proper names, suppressing public protests. They announced the threats to repress the organizers of the protests. Local prosecutors are now required to control, among other things, the sentiments in enterprises; identify the structures of grassroots self-organization of citizens. The need to oppose the strike movement was declared.

Further, under the chairmanship of Andrei Shved, a meeting of the coordination committee on combating crime and corruption was held, at which additional measures to counter protest activity were discussed. The problems in interagency cooperation have been identified during the meeting. It is stated that state bodies and other organizations took insufficient measures to “stabilize the socio-political situation”. An innovation was the actual threat of taking away the minors, who took part in the protests, from the families. Young students have been identified as a new direction of pressure from the regime in the light of the fact that universities are becoming centres of protest activity. It has been announced that it is possible to amend the administrative and criminal legislation, as well as the legislation on the mass media. Obviously, for making it more repressive.

In September, prosecutors began to meet with students and teachers of universities, students of colleges and lyceums. They focus on protest actions against the rigging of the presidential elections in Belarus and the participation of young people in them. In fact, we are talking about the intimidation of young people with the consequences of participating in protests.

On September 12, 2020 Lukashenka, during a meeting with the law enforcement part of the Security Council of Belarus, said that the country cannot, for financial reasons, maintain a large number of troops on the western border for a long time. If the threat from NATO has passed (although it did not exist), then the troops must be returned to their places of permanent deployment.

On September 14, 2020, Aliaksandr Lukashenka and Vladimir Putin met in Sochi. Among other issues, they discussed topics of bilateral cooperation in the field of security. During the event, the desire of the official Minsk to return to the previously successful tactics of “selling the security” became obvious: the exchange of protection of Russia from imaginary threats for very specific material support from the Kremlin. Apparently, the attempt was unsuccessful.

On September 16, 2020 Lukashenko, during a meeting with officials, voiced the accusations from the repertoire of Russian propaganda against the West, which allegedly adheres to a long-term strategy to destabilize the situation in Belarus (source). Therefore, it is worth strengthening control over the media and political organizations, as well as the indoctrination of the population through the media and teachers. It is necessary to modernize the electoral legislation in such a way that the opponents of the regime would not have any legal mechanisms at all to challenge the decisions of the authorities during election campaigns.

Lukashenka’s statements about the insidiousness of the West were actively supported by the Director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Sergei Naryshkin: the protests are organized and coordinated from abroad; the West began preparing for them long before the elections; the key role in them is played by the United States, which has significantly increased funding for the opponents of the Belarusian regime.

On September 16, 2020, a Russian military delegation headed by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu arrived in Minsk to discuss issues of bilateral military cooperation. It was stated that, given the coronavirus pandemic, the parties will strive to use the time remaining until the end of the year to implement previously planned activities. They will mainly focus on operational and combat training.

September is notable for the high intensity of the army’s combat training both in the national and multinational format. Due to the call for conscripts from the reserve:

— the 3620th artillery base was deployed (source);

— in the 11th mechanized brigade, a tank battalion was formed with the usage of military equipment and weapons from storage; and a repair company was replenished;

— in the 815th technical support center, a repair and restoration battalion was formed;

— in the 2766th fuel base, a pipeline battalion was formed.

Also, trainings with the reservists in the 969th tank reserve base and in the 288th vehicle reserve base were held.

On September 21-25, a special operational exercise of the signal troops was held. The actions of the branch of the armed forces during the strategic defensive operation of the army were trained. The issue of using special-purpose telecommunication networks, departmental communication networks of enterprises and organizations in the interests of command and control of troops was studied. About 2 thousand military personnel and more than 450 pieces of communication equipment were involved in the event. The training took place against the background of a complex electronic situation and the effects of radio interference of varying intensity.

On September 22-25, a command-staff exercise with the army’s technical support units was held. It involved about 900 people, including more than 200 people from the reserve. The defense of facilities, evacuation and repair of damaged equipment were trained.

On September 22-24, an exercise of electronic warfare units took place. During the event the combat use of electronic warfare technology that entered service this year was tested. The electronic warfare forces conducted electronic reconnaissance, direction finding and suppression of communication equipment of the imaginary enemy, organized and controlled a geographically dispersed radio monitoring system (for the first time on such a scale), counteracted UAVs, and organized a GSM communication network for closed user groups.

In addition to these exercises, there were also:

— a joint tactical exercise with live firing of the Osa air defense system of the 147th and 740th anti-aircraft missile regiments, during which the destruction of cruise missiles and helicopters was trained;

— a command-staff exercise on logistical support of troops in any conditions, as well as technical cover of the Belarusian railway in wartime, during which the involvement of the local economic base and the health care system was trained. The units were formed from conscripts, called up from the reserve.

Also, the battalion tactical group of the 19th mechanized brigade took part in the strategic exercise “Kavkaz-2020” in Russia. The transfer over a distance of over 1.5 thousand km was carried out by air. Russian provided the armoured vehicles, including one that is not in service with the Belarusian army (BMP-3).

The largest military training event was the exercise “Slavic Brotherhood-2020”. Traditionally, servicemen from Belarus, Russia and Serbia took part in it. But this year the latter country refused to send its military personnel to Belarus for political reasons.

Initially, the event was supposed to be anti-terrorist with the involvement of more than 800 people (of which about 300 were Russian) and 170 pieces of equipment.

Later, however, the exercise expanded. Two more battalion tactical groups of Russian paratroopers arrived in Belarus. One of them was airlifted by aviation and parachuted to the Brescki training ground.

The troops trained the landing of assault forces, the capture of the area for landing, blocking the settlement, as well as the destruction of conditional militants.

Further, at the second stage of the exercise, strategic bombers Tu-160 and long-range bombers Tu-22 took part in the event from the Russian side. Russian pilots trained the operational interaction with the Belarusian Air Force on air cover for the actions of a joint tactical group on the ground. From the Belarusian side, the Su-25, Yak-130 and Su-30SM were involved. The latter trained strikes on the ground for the first time as part of the Belarusian Air Force.

As a result, about 6 thousand servicemen (of which over 900 are Russian) and over 550 units of military equipment were involved in the final part of the “Slavic Brotherhood-2020”. The theme of the exercise from an anti-terrorist one turned into a combined-arms battle against a grouping of coalition forces of states hostile to Belarus and Russia.

On September 29, 2020 Lukashenka signed a decree on annual usage from December 1 to February 28, a section of the sparsely populated area “Palesski” on the border with Ukraine for conducting combat training, as well as testing missile weapons and aircraft of domestic production. The need to adopt the document is explained by the fact that the existing ranges provide firing (combat launches) and missile tests at a relatively short range. Renting landfills from foreign countries requires significant costs. It is not always possible even for money: in May 2020, it was reported that Russia refused to provide its test sites for testing new models of Belarusian-made missile weapons. As an alternative, the landfills in China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia were then considered.

In September, the prosecutor’s office stepped up its activity in the area of ​​crime prevention among military personnel. The following events were held:

-In the 30th railway brigade – for the prevention of corruption, drug trafficking and suicides (source).

-In the Central Command Post of the Air Force of Belarus;

— In the 19th mechanized and 103rd airborne brigades, the 14th border detachment, in addition to law and order issues in military collectives, prosecutors discussed with the command possible measures to “increase attention to the movement of forces in the western direction” (obviously on the territory of Lithuania and Latvia). The prosecutors demanded from the border guards to strengthen the protection of the State Border of Belarus along the entrusted perimeter in order to prevent the penetration of weapons, ammunition and funds into the country to finance “illegal activities”.

Conclusions. Obviously, instead of the loyal Prosecutor General Lukashenka needed a super loyal one, ready to carry out any instructions. The reason could be internal unrest in the prosecutor’s office and, in general, dissatisfaction of the Belarusian ruler with how the system of state administration worked to suppress the protests, which continue and remain massive. Lukashenka’s demands to the prosecutor’s office are a manifestation of his attitude towards his own power as sacred and untouched. Anyone who questions Lukashenka’s omnipotence is either an enemy or a criminal for him. An attempt on the regime is equal to an attempt on the country’s independence. Lukashenka expects the prosecutor’s office to become a control and coordinating body of political repression. This is very unusual because previously, the SSC performed a similar function. Which, during the last wave of repressions, tries to stay in the background, there was not a single scandalous political statement from the SSC, unlike the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Defense. It is obvious that for some reason Lukashenka allows such behavior of the Committee. The reasons are not completely clear: there were fragmentary reports about the dissatisfaction of the SSC veterans with the August punitive actions against the people. But this is hardly the reason for the absence of the SSC in the public field. Of course, we can’t talk of any kind of opposition there.

At the end of August, on the western border (the so-called Hrodna tactical direction), a consolidated grouping of troops was concentrated, numbering around the brigade. Actually, its maintenance, taking into account the minimum involvement of the reserve component, did not represent an unbearable financial burden. Lukashenka’s statements that the troops can be withdrawn if the alleged threat to NATO is over are explained by the fact that the military have completed their function in the political propaganda presentation and can return to the barracks.

The West did nothing of what the official Minsk and the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service accused it of. The EU and the US did not have and do not have a coherent strategy towards Belarus; Brussels and Washington have long perceived Lukashenka as a known and inevitable evil that can be dealt with. After the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the Belarusian ruler became “handshakable” for influential European politicians. Support for civil society and independent media declined. Hundreds of millions of Euros were used to finance the regime. All this gave the Belarusian authorities a feeling of impunity and confidence that their hands are free inside the country for any violence and arbitrariness.

Speaking about Sergei Shoigu’s visit to Minsk, it is worth paying attention to three points:

— despite the arrival of a high-profile Russian delegation, a joint collegium of the defense minstries of the two countries did not take place;

— for the first time since June 2013 Lukashenka publicly met with the Russian Minister of Defense, whose visits to Belarus he had ignored for the last 7 years due to the conflict over plans to create a Russian airbase in Belarus. Lukashenka first agreed to it in the spring of 2013 and then in the fall of 2015 year said that he was hearing about this idea for the first time;

— Lukashenka said that in Sochi he discussed with Putin the supply of some new weapons to Belarus, which was immediately disavowed by the Kremlin.

It seems that the public “nullification” Lukashenka’s words by Moscow was caused by the intention to knock out of the hands of Minsk the traditional trump card — “selling the security”. Minsk is trying again to take advantage of the confrontation between Russia and the West to exchange its military-political loyalty to the Kremlin for something more concrete and material. This means that despite the propaganda statements about the brotherhood of the two countries, the reality is different.

The reason for the density of military exercises in September and the growth of “Slavic Brotherhood-2020” could be the situation with the incidence of Covid-19: the generals tried to take advantage of the infection decline window. Thus, Russian Defense Minister Shoigu said that out of about 130 joint measures of the defense departments of the two countries, about 30% had been completed in September. The goal is to fulfill the original plan by at least 70% by the end of the year.

The question of using the Russian Tu-160 and Tu-22 bombers remains open. Even the final scenario of the exercise suggests that such aircraft is superfluous. It is unclear whether these flights in the airspace of Belarus were planned for this year, or whether this is an “addition” to the existing plans. In any case, in the West, the Tu-160 flight will be considered within the framework of the hypothesis that Minsk is not independent in matters of military security and that Belarus is unable to maintain neutrality in the event of an armed confrontation between Russia and NATO. Moreover, during the final stage of the «Slavic Brotherhood-2020», the conduct of hostilities against the coalition of states at training grounds located in the west of Belarus was practiced.

Note that by sending the Tu-160, Moscow marked the boundaries of its influence, and not support for the regime in Minsk.

It is highly likely that all or most of the above September military exercises in Belarus were carried out within the framework of a single scenario and, in fact, are parts of a bog one. In this case, we are talking about the largest military training event. In which at least 9 thousand servicemen and more than 1,000 units of military equipment (including the Russian contingent) took part.

Judging by the maximum distances of the “Palesski” area, the need for a test launch site is explained by the creation of Belarusian medium-range anti-aircraft missile 9M318, the first flight tests of which were carried out in February of this year. It was announced that launches with a warhead are planned to be carried out by the end of 2020.

Prosecutors’ demands on the military (to strengthen monitoring of the movement of forces in the western direction) and border guards (to strengthen border security), which go beyond the competence of the prosecutor’s office, indicate that a demonstrative vigilance against external and internal threats is becoming one of the most important qualities of government officials. Which is a sign of the atmosphere prevailing within the state apparatus.

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