The most important events of the month. An unnoticed, but historically important event of April — Aliaksandr Lukashenka approved an investment project for the construction of the Homiel-Horki trunk oil pipeline. In order to diversify oil supplies to Belarus. The construction should end in 2023.
The construction of this section of the pipeline will make it possible to connect the northern and southern branches of the Druzhba pipeline running through Belarus and to deliver oil to both Belarusian refineries through pipelines via Poland or Ukraine. The construction of this jumper was one of the key elements in the creation of the Baltic-Black Sea oil reservoir, which was promoted by the national democratic opposition in the first half of the 90s. Lukashenko took 25 years to understand the right idea of the patriotic forces.
The creation of the Homiel-Horki oil pipeline will in fact mean the final loss by Russia of a monopoly on oil supplies to Belarus and will significantly strengthen Minsk’s position in negotiations with Moscow regarding oil trade. The decision is primarily political and only then economic. The Belarusian-Russian Union is steadily turning into an increasingly virtual dimension. Which is natural and predictable.
The developments within the month. The main events of the month are somehow connected with the COVID-19 epidemic. Which affects various aspects of security and the functioning of law enforcement agencies.
So, exercises on territorial defence in the Astraviec district were actually cancelled. On March 31, 2020 the beginning of the formation of the headquarters of the territorial defence and the battalion of territorial troops was announced. On April 2, 2020 a call of reserve officers to form a battalion for military training began. In the afternoon of April 4 the Ministry of Defence announced the completion of the event, as its goals were allegedly achieved.
On April 13, 2020 State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Andrei Raukou acknowledged the presence of COVID-19 cases in the military and law enforcement agencies, but in the “scanty numbers”.
By the end of April, this number, at least for the Ministry of Internal Affairs, has ceased to be scanty: about 500 infected have been identified, which is at least 1% of the personnel.
The Ministry of Defence diligently hides the number of recorded cases of infection. But judging by the measures taken, the military command takes the situation very seriously. At the checkpoints of military units, medical posts are deployed, where every day before entering the territory of the unit, an examination and, if necessary, thermometry of all military personnel and civilian personnel is carried out. Short vacations, visits to military personnel and events related to the movement of military units are limited. It is known that there are infected with COVID-19 in a number of military units, the Military Academy, the Minsk Suvorov Military School, and in the Main Clinical Medical Centre of the Army. Some of the infected have recovered, serious quarantine measures are being taken.
In addition, there are facts of infection of workers at a number of military industry enterprises in Minsk.
Despite ostentatious bravado, the Belarusian authorities were forced to step up efforts to counter the epidemic throughout April. 60 units of equipment were sent to Minsk for disinfection of healthcare facilities and industry (including indoor treatment) from the 8th brigade of radiation, chemical and biological protection. In April, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and doctors monitored compliance with the requirements for self-isolation of over 10 thousand people (exact figures were not announced). Sanitary quarantine points were deployed on the border with Russia.
At the same time, a centralized and sufficient supply of protective equipment for ordinary servicemen was not organized in April. The problem was solved partly at the expense of their personal funds, partly thanks to the help of volunteers and international partners.
An additional problem is the spring conscription campaign for military service: on April 10, 2020 the Ministry of Healthcare announced that it was continuing as planned. The Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Healthcare do not see any obstacles to holding the draft within the previously designated time frames. According to the experience of the previous campaign, about 70 thousand young people will go through military registration and enlistment offices. It is reported that measures to prevent the spread of the disease are either not taken at all, or are of a formal nature.
It is interesting to note the rather chaotic coverage of the situation with the COVID-19 epidemic in Belarus by state propaganda. Which only increased the impression of confusion of the authorities and emphasized their inability to respond quickly to challenges in the information field. Obviously, for some time, propagandists simply did not receive clear guidelines for their activities. As a result, they broadcasted frankly crazy statements: for example, one of the state television channels reported that COVID-19 is a biological weapon used by the United States against China. The propaganda apparatus expected some specifics from the top leadership of the country. But Lukashenka himself made contradictory statements during April, from which it was impossible to understand whether COVID-19 is a problem or not.
It necessary to focus on the holding of a military parade on May 9, which in April did not find both public support inside or outside the country. 78% of Belarusians supported the idea of cancelling all mass events. On April 29, 2020 WHO announced recommendation to the Belarusian authorities to postpone mass events, including political ones. The European Union has told that the financial assistance to Belarus in the fight against the pandemic will be provided only in case of implementing the WHO recommendations. While Russia and China refused to send their troops to participate in the parade in Minsk, citing an unfavourable epidemiological situation, which is much worse for official Minsk.
COVID-19 pandemic negatively affects the country’s economy and the ability of the state to finance previously planned expenses. In April, it became known about problems with filling the budget. Given the unfavourable forecasts for the national economy, revising budget spending is just a matter of time. Based on the available data and forecasts, the budget may not receive at least BYN 1 billion in 2020.
In April, the prosecutor’s office carried out preventive measures to maintain the rule of law in the troops:
— in the 30th separate railway brigade, the measures to identify and eradicate the causes and conditions of offenses were taken;
-in the 2nd Brigade of the MIA Internal Troops, military personnel were explained the responsibility for violations of the charter rules of relations and military discipline, the procedure for handling weapons and for drug trafficking in a military unit.
In April, a couple of combat training activities were held. The following of them are of most interest:
— bridge battalion of the 36th road-bridge brigade trained the restoration, protection and defence of the bridge crossing;
— the 38th airborne assault brigade held a battalion exercise on counter-sabotage operations (search actions, guarding objects) with the participation of about 200 personnel and up to 50 units of military equipment;
— the peacekeeping company of the 103rd airborne brigade trained combat in the city (assault on a settlement captured by militants).
Conclusions. COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the lack of an integrated response approach in Belarus. There were no affordable and sufficient measures to protect the personnel of law enforcement agencies, who have to perform their duties in the new adverse conditions.
If the recruits become infected with COVID-19 during the draft or if the infected will be sent to the barracks, this will lead to disastrous consequences for the Army’s image. This will kill all attempts to raise the prestige of military service, for which the Ministry of Defence spent more than 3.5 years already.
In the absence of an evaluative (and not scientifically based) solution of one person on the problem of COVID-19, the public administration system demonstrated a blatant dysfunction:
— in the upper echelons of state power there was no person who would take responsibility for responding to the threat;
— necessary measures are taken with an impermissible delay;
— Lukashenka, on the other hand, showed an unsatisfactory level of quick developing solutions in new circumstances.
A deep deficit of leadership in Belarus has become apparent.
The behaviour of the Belarusian authorities, especially the holding of mass events during the epidemic, causes more and more irritation of the Belarusian society and external actors. The refusal of the PRC and Russia to participate in the military parade in Minsk is a political demarche. Just ensuring the security of a foreign military would not be a particular problem. On one hand, the policy of the Belarusian authorities is perceived as inadequate in the West, and on the other hand, Kremlin perceives it as a challenge against the background of tough restrictive measures in Russia, including the abolition of state rituals important personally for Vladimir Putin.
In connection with problems with filling the budget, the ability to finance the full cost of scientific and technical development and technical equipment of the army is in question. Previously, these expenditures were planned in the amount of BYN 333.2 million, which, given the budgeted average annual rate, amounted to USD 148.75 million. Even if it is possible to fulfil the plan in BYN terms (which is unlikely), its currency weight will decrease sharply due to BYN depreciation. For the army this is particularly important, because its needs are met to a large extent through imports. At the same time, the products of Belarusian military industry also have a share of imported components.