The most important events of the month. On April 5-8, the Minister of Defence of the People’s Republic of China, Wei Fenghe, who was appointed to the post in March of this year, visited Belarus. The Chinese Minister was met according to a special protocol. During the talks, Aliaksandr Lukashenka expressed his gratitude for the military-technical cooperation between two countries. He spoke about the decisive role of Beijing in strengthening the defence capability of Belarus (the creation of a space communications and missile weapon systems).
It is reported that during the visit, another agreement on the provision of gratuitous assistance to the Belarusian army by China was signed. Although the previous agreement was concluded only six months ago in October 2017 and provided assistance for USD 4.5 million.
The developments within the month. On April 2, 2018 Belarusian Defence Minister Andrei Raukou confirmed the allocation of funding for the purchase of the fifth battery of anti-aircraft missile systems Tor-M2E in Russia and four Yak-130 combat training aircraft. According to Mr. Raukou, Su-30 fighters will be delivered in 2019-2020 in best case.
On April 3, 2018, a joint venture “Aviation Technologies and Complexes” was created. It was found by the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus and the largest Chinese corporation AVIC. The parties approved the charter, elected management bodies of the enterprise and its directors. It is planned to launch the serial production of both own developments of the company as well as of AVIC’s existing ones. CIS countries represent the priority market. Note that during the international exhibition of weapons and military equipment MILEX-2017 AVIC organized a joint stand with the Academy of Sciences of Belarus. The leaflets that were distributed at the stand were accompanied with a business card of the closed joint-stock company “Aviation Technologies and Complexes”. Which, as it turns out, did not officially exist at those time.
AVIC is known for the multi-purpose reconnaissance-combat UAV of the long flight duration Wing Loong. It was exported to the countries the official Minsk has a trusting relationship with (Egypt, UAE, Kazakhstan). Which allows to get acquainted with the results of operation of these UAVs. AVIC also produces J-10 fighter jets for the PRC Air Force and FC-1/JF-17 for Pakistan (available in Azerbaijan) as well as clones of Soviet/Russian heavy Su-27/Su-30 fighters.
On April 23, 2018 it became known that Belarus had already transferred to Serbia four MiG-29 fighters from the eight ones, that were previously promised to Serbia. Serbia had to pay for the repair and modernization of the transferred equipment at the Belarusian enterprises. However, it turns out that the fighter planes will be modernized not in Belarus, but in Serbia.
On April 24, 2018 the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) officially informed about the attempt of the State Security Committee of Belarus to enlist the Ukrainian citizen to collect confidential information. The news was widely disseminated by the media. But already on April 26, 2018 the SSU removed the information about this case from its website.
On April 26, 2018 Minsk hosted a scientific and practical conference on improving the effectiveness of the regional grouping of troops (forces) of Belarus and Russia with the participation of representatives of the armies of both states. At the same time, the Belarusian side was interested in the experience gained by the Russian military in Syria.
On April 28, 2018 the Belarusian Prosecutor General’s Office reported on the verification of the legality of the actions of the major shareholders of Orsha Aircraft Repair Plant (OARP), especially the Ukrainian investor of PJSC Motor Sich, which led to financial consequences for the enterprise. The reasons of non-execution of the investment contract by PJSC “Motor Sich” are analysed. The audit allegedly revealed serious violations of the legislation by the management of the plant appointed by the Ukrainian shareholder and officials of PJSC “Motor Sich”, which caused the failure of a number of contracts with foreign customers as well as with a Belarusian customer financed from the budget.
The complex inspection of the army is completed. The brigade, formed from the reserve military, received its own name: the 37th Guards separate mechanized brigade. Obviously, it is the assignee of the 37th Guards Tank Division, which was previously reduced to the weapons storage base and then disbanded.
The Belarusian Prosecutor’s office continues work on the prevention of violations in the troops. In April, prosecutorial workers spoke to servicemen of the Asipovichy and Babruisk garrisons in the Mahilyou region. Anonymous questioning of soldiers of the young recruiting concerning the hazing was conducted. The conditions of service and life of servicemen were studied. In the Minsk region, a meeting of prosecutors with servicemen of transport troops was held. The purpose was to clarify the current legislation on the military service, to ensure its safe conditions, to prevent offenses in the army environment, to exclude the facts of suicide and the death of military personnel.
The problem of illegal alcohol becomes serious. The Ministry of Internal Affairs proposes to criminalize the production, sale and importation of counterfeit and falsified ethyl alcohol into the country, as well as alcohol-containing products, the use of which, by negligence, resulted in death.
April is noteworthy for the scale of the suppression of the importation of hashish into Belarus:
— On April 11, 2013, 92 kg of hashish (source) were seized by border guards.
— On April 13, 2018 at one of the points of the border pass 36 kg of hashish were found and seized;
— On April 18, 2018 it became known about the prevention of smuggling of 318 kg of hashish into Belarus (source).
On April 17, 2018 it was reported that Polish border guards prevented the import of 114 kg of hashish to Belarus.
In April, the Belarusian military industry management in a veiled form expressed dissatisfaction with the nature of cooperation with Russia. Contrary to expectations, Belarusian manufacturers are not allowed into those niches that were freed on the Russian arms market after the break-up of military-technical cooperation between Moscow and Kiev. Belarusian military industry also hasn’t got the expected share in Russian import substitution programs. Traditionally, Belarusian enterprises do not have the opportunity to directly participate in the state defence order of Russia.
The preparation of the mechanized units of the army for combat in urban conditions (including control, rear and technical support) continued. The following skills were trained:
— counter-diversion activities, the use of air search groups, air cover for assault groups and mechanized columns;
— defence against the advancing enemy forces and counterattacks;
— the conduct of special actions to strengthen the state border protection by the mechanized units along with the border guards;
— search for enemy sabotage and reconnaissance groups, their detection, blockage and destruction in the course of tactical exercises of the battalion level with units of the Special Operations Forces of the Army of Belarus and the Airborne Forces of Russia.
Assault aviation conducted aerial reconnaissance with the subsequent destruction of air defence and airfield infrastructure of the conventional enemy in the daytime. Then at night the pilots single-handedly trained the strikes on the ground targets.
Conclusions. Speaking about the visit of the Minister of Defence of the PRC to Belarus, it should be noted that the Belarusian official sources emphasized the intensity of the Belarusian-Chinese relations in the field of defence: for the period from 2013 to 2017, Belarusian Defence Ministry leaders visited the PRC 7 times while the Chinese Defence Ministry top delegations came to Belarus 11 times. Since 2000, 277 Chinese servicemen have been trained at the Military Academy of Belarus and 77 Belarusian officers studied at the educational institutions of the People’s Liberation Army of China.
At the same time, a list of joint projects with China in the field of military-technical cooperation was stated:
— in 2017 a contract with the company «Great March» for the supply of solid rocket engines for the modernization of anti-aircraft missiles to the “Buk-MB” was signed;
— the project of developing a solid-state radar for electronic warfare station designed to combat unmanned aerial vehicles is under negotiation;
— the project of creation of powder manufacture and manufacture of rocket engines in Belarus is under research.
At the same time, both Belarusian and Chinese officials fairly commented on the structure of Wei Fenghe’s visit to Belarus. Which can be considered as an indirect sign of the importance of the event. The nature of the talks can be only imagined. But judging by the 4-day visit of the Minister of Defence of China, Belarus has something to attract the interest of China.
Official Minsk seeks to demonstrate the exceptional nature of relations with Beijing to external observers. Although there is no reason to believe that Belarus is a critical partner for China in the field of security, the countries are quite comfortable partners for each other. The absence of political tensions, the existence of issues of mutual interest create the prerequisites for the expansion of military and military-technical cooperation between Belarus and China. The main constraint is the limited financial resources of Belarus.
President Lukashenka has repeatedly stressed that drones of different purposes are one of the priorities for the development of national defence. The fact that AVIC decided to create a joint venture in Belarus is a sign of serious interest on the part of the Chinese company. Which can be dictated only by the scale of the prospects not only in the field of unmanned aircraft. The Chinese thought for almost a year before they finally decided to formalize relations with Belarus in the form of a joint venture.
There is a high probability that Belarus has become a transit country in the scheme for the delivery to Serbia of MiG-29 fighters belonging to Russia. Therefore, Minsk has no right to vote in deciding exactly where the allegedly Belarusian planes will be modernized. The interest of the Belarusian authorities could be symbolic (the demonstration of Slavic solidarity against the background of Lukashenka’s personal sympathy for Serbia) and political (positioning official Minsk as a strategic partner for Belgrade and a reliable ally for Moscow, ready to participate in Russian political schemes). That’s also an attempt to make money on modernization of the aircraft. In any case, regardless of the origin of the fighter planes transferred to Serbia, the final balance for Minsk may be negative: in Belgrade, it has already been announced that the MiG-29s received will allow the Serbs to dominate the Balkan sky. Which will rather be appreciated without any enthusiasm by the neighbouring countries. Given the fact that some of the states of the region are members of the EU and NATO, the supply of weapons from Belarus to Serbia can create additional difficulties in establishing a dialogue between Minsk and these organizations.
The circumstances of the recruitment of a Ukrainian citizen by the Belarusian SSC, announced in April, coincided with last year’s history. Most likely it is the same event. The special services of Belarus and Ukraine have very strained relations. It is necessary to note that the issue of the exchange of citizens of the two countries accused of espionage has not yet been resolved. Belarus earlier indicated a willingness to resolve all formalities in a short time. But there is a delay of the trial in Ukraine against a Belarusian citizen accused of espionage. The very subject of intelligence activity is absolutely closed. The fact that spy stories (including an unsuccessful attempt to recruit a Ukrainian citizen by the SSC) have become public and continue to be discussed in the media, attests to a serious crisis of bilateral Belarusian-Ukrainian political relations at the highest level. The special services of the two countries were dragged into confrontation. That puts into question the prospects for bilateral cooperation on a wide range of directions, not necessarily related to security issues.
As the election campaign in Ukraine approaches, one can expect that the position of Ukraine on the problematic aspects of bilateral relations will become tougher and these problems can become public. Which the official Minsk would like to avoid, of course, but obviously not at any cost. It is impossible to stabilize bilateral relations without top-level intervention.
Joint Belarusian-Russian defence activities, in addition to resolving purely practical military tasks, are an important instrument of official Minsk to maintain the necessary level of political confidence in the Kremlin. Which can be converted into Russian preferences of an economic nature. They also serve as a mechanism for obtaining information on the combat experience, developments and views of the Russian side on topical security issues. Which in theory makes it possible to predict the behaviour of the Kremlin.
The assignment of regalia to a military unit, which is created for a month for educational purposes, seems strange. Another thing is that the 37th brigade may not be disbanded, but it will be preserved as a cadre one, with a place of deployment, for example, in the Barysau garrison. It will consist of the minimum necessary command and control bodies and equipment can be stored on the territory of the 72nd integrated training centre.
The Defence Ministry demonstrates satisfaction with the results of the complex inspection of the troops. It should be noted that the public reaction to the event is rather negative. Personal impressions of the participants of military gatherings, which were made public in online media and social networks, are far from the official enthusiasm of materials in the state media. Negative or condescending comments on the army prevail online. This was expected, but the scale of the negative forces us to doubt the effectiveness of the information work of the Defence Ministry. We can also state the complete failure of what officials call “civil and patriotic education”.
The Belarusian army faced a serious crisis of trust. This is the consequence of internal problems and ineffectiveness of the Ministry of Defence’s information work with the population, and the manifestation of a general alienation of society from the state and its institutions.
“Motor Sich” initially took on the overstated obligations to the Belarusian government. The Belarusian authorities pinned unrealistic hopes on the Ukrainian investor, hoping to get their own helicopter production. The war with Russia and the subsequent ban on the supply of a number of industry products, including helicopter engines from Ukraine to Russia, limit the possibility of working in the Russian market. This reduced the interest of the Ukrainian investor to the development of its Belarusian production site and naturally affected the economic state of the Orsha Aircraft Repair Plant (OARP). In addition, “Motor Sich” itself is experiencing hard times due to criminal proceedings against the company’s main shareholder.
Taking into account the conservatism of the aviation market, it is almost impossible for OARP to independently integrate into the new production. The probability of a return to the government control over the enterprise is almost 100%. OARP can be transferred as an additional production site to the 558th aircraft repair plant in Baranavichy, the leader of Belarusian aviation industry. It is worth recalling that earlier the Belarusian-Russian program of cooperation in the military-technical sphere up to 2020 provided for the establishment of a service centre for IL-76 service on the basis of the OARP. However, the project was not implemented. At the present time, in the light of a decline in Russia’s military spending, the likelihood of a return to these plans is not high.
The introduction of criminal liability for the sale of illegal alcohol, which caused the death of a person, can be the first step towards the criminalization of illegal alcohol business. The fake vodka in Russia is five times cheaper than the original. The difference in price is pestering the illegal alcohol market and without taking drastic measures it seems problematic to take control of the situation. However, the introduction of criminal liability for the illegal turnover of alcohol is a part of the problem solution. Organizational measures are required to prevent the importation of illegal alcohol to Belarus from Russia, where more than 90% of surrogates come from.
In April, more cannabis was seized in Belarus than in the whole of 2017, when 404 kg of drugs were confiscated. Obviously, the drug came through Belarus to Russia. It is worth recalling that one of the reasons for the introduction of the protection of the border with Belarus by the Russian side is the growth in the smuggling of narcotic substances.
Although the top management of the Belarusian State Military-Industrial Committee remains hopeful of removing obstacles to work in the Russian market, taking into consideration the experience and the reduction of the Russian budget, it is highly unlikely that the Belarusian defence industry will have equal rights and opportunities with Russian counterparts in the Russian arms market. Moreover, Moscow has proclaimed a strategical policy of maximum substitution of imported products in the defence sphere. Even Belarusian products are subject to substitution. In this regard, it is more likely to care about preserving Belarusian share in the Russian arms market.