Situation in the field of national security and defence of Belarus (August 2019)

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The most important events of the month. August was the month of high-level Belarusian-American contacts. On August 13-14, a delegation of the US Congress led by Mike Quigley visited Minsk. During the meeting with representatives of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, issues of trade, economic and humanitarian cooperation, the state of regional security were discussed. Note that M. Quigley is a member of the House of Representatives Committee on Intelligence. Obviously, for the Americans, the visit was exploratory and did not imply the achievement of any significant results.

On August 29, 2019 the former Assistant to the President of the United States for National Security, John Bolton visited Minsk. On August 30, 2019, a Belarusian delegation consisting of State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Stanislau Zas and Deputy Foreign Minister Aleh Krauchanka suddenly visited Warsaw. There the meetings with the leadership of the National Security Bureau under the President of Poland were held. And on Saturday, August 31, Belarusian officials took part in a quadripartite meeting of the leaders of the Security Councils of Belarus, Poland and Ukraine, together with John Bolton. We dedicated special articles to these events. It is necessary to note the following.

Firstly, the visit of Mr. Bolton to Minsk and the subsequent voyage of Belarusian officials to Warsaw took place on the initiative of the Americans. Moreover, in the latter case, in Minsk, the decision was made following the results of the meeting of Aliaksandr Lukashenka with an American official, in the evening of August 29, 2019.

Secondly, Mr. Bolton’s visit to Minsk was a surprise for the Belarusian authorities. As far as one can judge, Belarusian officials until the last moment did not have clear ideas about the purpose of the visit.

Thirdly, for the Americans, the visit to Minsk was exploratory: to probe the position of the Belarusian authorities on a number of issues important to Washington. Many of these issues are not directly connected with Eastern Europe. Some “red lines”, a violation of which will hinder the progress of Belarusian-American relations, were set as well.

Fourthly, Minsk showed a high interest in developing relations with the United States. Naturally, not at all costs. Belarus also seeks specific economic benefits from such relations.

As for the Warsaw meeting, it seemed to have two tasks:

— political one: to demonstrate the credibility of the current American administration to gather around itself the countries of the region at least at a common table;

— practical one: to outline the desired US borders for developing the missile potential of Belarus and Ukraine after the collapse of the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles.

Moscow did not publicly show much interest in what happened. But obviously, Minsk had to inform the Kremlin about the visit of John Bolton and the meeting in Warsaw. The intensification of contacts with the Americans (even with no results) will clearly not contribute to improving political relations between Belarus and Russia. However, there is no reason to claim that this will cause serious complications between the two countries.

The developments within the month. On August 2, 2019, the Chairman of the State Military Industrial Committee (SMIC) of Belarus, Raman Halouchanka met the head of the rear of the General Staff of the Army of the United Arab Emirates, the chairman of the Emirate of the Joint Committee on Military-Technical Cooperation, Major General Khalaf al-Kubaisi. The achieved results and the current state of cooperation in this area were discussed.

On August 5, 2019 Lukashenka met with the head of the Operational and Analytical Centre (OAC) Andrei Paulyuchenka. The results of the implementation of earlier given instructions on the development of this special service, its current activities and personnel issues were discussed. The OAC provides operational support for a number of high-profile, but not named criminal cases and major infrastructure projects.

On August 9, 2019 Lukashenka got acquainted with the results of the State Security Committee’s (SSC) of Belarus activities in creating secure communications technology (including mobile ones) and encryption equipment. In particular, the mobile technical control complex of the counter-terrorist operation, including the ability to launch UAVs, as well as detect and neutralize them, was demonstrated. Currently it is undergoing state tests.

Following the results, Lukashenka let slip that in the future it would be possible to transform the Main Directorate of Government Communications and Information Technologies of the SSC of Belarus into a separate special service.

On August 13, 2019 Aliaksandr Lukashenka met the head of the Investigative Committee of Belarus Ivan Naskevich. The latter said that in January-July the country experienced an increase in crime by 8.3% compared to the same period last year.

On August 14, 2019, Aleh Belakoneu, Chief of the General Staff of the Army of Belarus, held a briefing dedicated to the upcoming Belarusian-Russian exercise “Union Shield 2019”. During the event, it was stated that the location of the exercise was specially chosen in the interior of Russia, so as not to aggravate the situation in Europe. The event is planned to be held at only one Mulino training ground in the Nizhny Novgorod region. Traditionally, some terrorists and separatists, acting with the external support of third forces, are supposed to be adversaries.

It is planned to involve in the exercise about 12 thousand military personnel, up to 950 units of military equipment, as well as up to 70 aircraft and helicopters. Over 4 thousand people, more than 30 tanks, 80 armoured combat vehicles, about 50 artillery units, as well as about 15 aircraft and helicopters are expected to participate from Belarusian side.

Concern about the offensive nature of NATO military exercises was expressed as well. According to the military leadership of Belarus, the Alliance is preparing for a forceful response to crises in the post-Soviet space.

On August 14-15, a Serbian military delegation headed by the chief of the General Staff of the Army of Serbia, General Milan Moysilovich, visited Belarus. The guests visited the 558th Aviation Repair Plant, where they got acquainted with the repair process of four MiG-29 fighters transferred to Serbia by Belarus and the products / services of this enterprise. Meetings at the SMIC were held as well. The parties discussed current and future directions of military-technical cooperation between the two countries.

On August 18-20, at the invitation of the Chief of the General Staff of the Belarusian Army Aleh Belakoneu, the Commander of the Latvian Army, Lieutenant General Leonids Kalnins, visited Minsk. The parties discussed issues of international and regional security, prospects for bilateral military cooperation. The Latvian delegation visited the Military Academy of the Republic of Belarus and one of the military units. As far as is known, earlier official delegations of NATO countries were not invited to this unit.

On August 20, 2019 a meeting on the situation in the law enforcement sphere was held. During the event, chaired by Lukashenka, the accusations of serious flaws and a large-scale violation of the law by the officers were addressed to law enforcement agencies at the highest level.

Lukashenka’s public criticism of the law enforcement agencies turned out to be more of a PR move. At the subsequent coordination meeting on combating crime and corruption, which was attended by the heads of the Belarusian law enforcement agencies (including special services and the Ministry of Defence), Head of the Presidential Administration of Belarus Natallya Kachanava, State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Stanislav Zas, the leadership of the Supreme Court and other high-level officials, it was stated that there are deficiencies in the activities of law enforcement agencies, but they are not systemic.

On August 23, 2019 Lukashenka met the Prime Minister of Georgia Mamuka Bakhtadze. During the meeting, the Belarusian ruler expressed support for the territorial integrity of Georgia and the inadmissibility of the dismemberment of the state.

On August 26, 2019 a meeting of the chiefs of general staffs of the armies of the CIS countries was held. The event included the following:

— the draft Concept for the development of military cooperation of the Commonwealth countries until 2025 was approved;

— the main directions of development of the Joint System of Radiation, Chemical and Biological Protection until 2025 were agreed on;

— the military-political situation in the Central Asian region (obviously, the situation in Afghanistan in connection with the prospect of the withdrawal of American troops from there) was discussed;

— the organization and conduct of anti-terrorism exercises and other joint activities was discussed;

— the meeting participants got acquainted with the experience of humanitarian demining in Laos and the practice of countering massive raids of unmanned aerial vehicles (obviously, this refers to regular attacks by unidentified UAVs at the Russian air base in Syria).

On August 28, 2019, the annual territorial defence training on the topic “The procedure for the formation of territorial troops of the districts of the city of Minsk” was held in Minsk. The event attracted all the heads of city administrations, military commissars of the districts and the heads of territorial defence groups of Minsk military commissariats.

In Belarus, amendments to the legislation on military service came into force. According to them the right to deferment from service to continue education was narrowed. According to the statements of the military department, this will make it possible to additionally conscript to 3 thousand people. However, even this may not be enough. Allegedly, in the spring of 2019, only 4.2 thousand people were conscripted instead of the usual 10 thousand.

The State Border Committee reported on the results of work for the first half of 2019:

— 144 border violators, 721 border violators and 718 border regime violators were brought to justice;

— About 600 kg of narcotic drugs, 99 units of weapons and over 1800 ammunition were seized (There is no information on how many of these are classified as military weapons / ammunition because of the rarity of such cases);

— material assets of about USD 0.6 million value were detained.

In August, a number of notable army training events took place:

— operational and tactical exercises with the Air Force and Air Defence, during which the anti-aircraft gunners trained a march to new position areas, repelling the enemy’s air strike;

— verification of combat and mobilization readiness of the 36th road-bridge brigade, during which more than 100 people were called up from the reserve;

— at the Russian training ground Ashuluk, air defence exercises for Belarusian anti-aircraft gunners were held. “S-300”, “Tor-M2”, “Buk” SAMs and the new “Rosa-RB”, “Protivnik”, and “Vostok” radar systems were deployed. A new control system was also tested. For the first time, cadet units took part in the exercise;

— the training of transport troops involving more than 1 thousand military personnel, including those called up from the reserve, and about 200 units of various equipment was held.

— a joint exercise of the engineering troops of Belarus and Russia took place on Russian territory, during which interaction in preparation for the defensive operation was trained;

— also on the territory of Russia, the Belarusian-Russian-Egyptian exercise “Friendship Defenders-2019” was held for the first time. It involved more than a thousand military personnel (including up to 250 from Belarus) and more than 100 weapons and military equipment. From Belarus, the battalion tactical group of the 38th air assault brigade participated. The exercise had a politically correct anti-terrorism scenario. However, the measures taken are also applicable to the convention conflict: parachuting from Il-76MD and C-130 Hercules airplanes and subsequent blocking and destruction of enemy targets as well as search actions.

A number of events in the troops with the participation of representatives of the prosecutor’s office were held:

— in the 86th communications brigade with the participation of more than 250 military personnel, a preventive measure to ensure legality during the Belarusian-Russian exercise “Union Shield 2019” was held. Particular attention was paid to the prevention of deaths and injuries of military personnel, destruction / damage to military property, crimes against the local population, environmental pollution;

— on the eve of the “Union Shield 2019,” prosecutors took part in the military council of the North-Western Operational Command, during which the issues of law enforcement and the prevention of offenses in the army as well as the military command’s response to violations previously identified by prosecutors were discussed.

Conclusions. Traditionally, control over the implementation of important infrastructure projects is carried out by the SSC and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Most likely, the OAC oversees the implementation of projects in the field of development of the digital / cyber infrastructure of the state.

Throughout the entire period of his reign, Lukashenka pursues a policy of fragmenting law enforcement agencies by separating structural units into independent ones, or creating completely new services with the aim of provoking competition in the military and law enforcement agencies as well as preventing the formation of a centre of influence on the basis of one large department. This is dictated by political reasons (concentration and retention of power), and not by the real security needs of Belarus. Although there is no need to talk about the imminent separation of government communication department from the SSC structure, the very fact of the announcement of such a prospect indicates that Lukashenka remains committed to fragmentation of law enforcement agencies.

According to statistics from the Belarusian Ministry of Internal Affairs, the largest increase in crime this year was noted in Minsk — immediately by almost 25%. The main increase (about 10%) occurred in the category of less serious crimes and crimes that do not pose a great public danger. Given that almost half of the crimes in Belarus are thefts, it is obvious that the main increase in crime was provided by these acts. Theft is a crime caused mainly by the social disorder of the perpetrators.

It is worth noting that Russia has so far demonstrated an emphasized small interest in the “Union Shield 2019”. The event is reported sparingly by official sources. In contrast to the “West-2017” there are no information provocations against Minsk so far.

It is also necessary to note that the exercise “Union Shield 2015” involved more than 8 thousand people (of which 1.3 thousand were Belarusian soldiers), and more than 5 thousand Belarusian troops and 500 units of equipment took part in the “Union Shield 2011”. It can be concluded that official Minsk continues to consider cooperation in the field of security as a “sacred cow” in relations with Moscow and demonstrates to it its reliability in the field of security. The Belarusian authorities will continue to use the security factor in order to resolve the Belarusian-Russian contradictions in an acceptable way.

Minsk considers Belarusian-Latvian relations as a positive example of interaction with a state that is a member of the EU and NATO. Traditionally, there are no sharp contradictions between the two countries. One can assume that in the long term the multilateral dialogue of the defence departments of Belarus, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine in the field of regional security will be expanded through Latvian participation. Such an expansion can be supported by Minsk due to the hostile, according to the Belarusian side, position of Lithuania.

From the facts voiced by Lukashenko on the situation in the law enforcement sphere on August 8, 2019, it follows that Belarus has a multi-level cross-system of control and assessment of the activities of law enforcement agencies. Which allows the country’s top bureaucracy to get an objective and fairly complete picture of the situation in the field of public and national security as well as to be able to assess the capacity of law enforcement agencies. At the same time, the formation of centres of political influence by the security forces is excluded, an element of competition and mistrust in relations between various departments is introduced, which does not allow the military and law enforcement agencies to form common corporate interests. Thus, the leadership of these agencies in Belarus does not pose any threat to the existing political regime, has limited lobbying potential, and preserves unconditional loyalty to Aliaksandr Lukashenka personally. Deficiencies in the activities of law enforcement agencies are caused not by their lack of control, but by reasons of a different nature.

At present, there is no reason to expect serious changes in the leadership of law enforcement agencies connected with unsatisfactory results of their activities. Identified deficiencies are assessed as having a limited and operational nature. Lukashenka’s angry statements addressed to the security services on August 20, 2019 are nothing more than a PR act in order to maintain his reputation as a “public defender” in the context of the ongoing election campaign.

Official Minsk has consistently maintained the position that states can break up, but their territories cannot be forcibly torn away or annexed. In this regard, it is especially worth highlighting the unconditional support of the territorial integrity of Moldova, Azerbaijan and Georgia by the Belarusian authorities. Unlike the “Crimean clause” as applied to Ukraine: Kiev de facto renounced its sovereignty over the peninsula without attempting its armed defence. Although Minsk declined to recognize the annexation of Crimea by Russia. It should be recognized that Moscow did not exert significant pressure on Belarus in order to achieve recognition of territorial changes in the post-Soviet space.

Speaking about the adjustment of the grounds for obtaining a deferment from military draft, we should note the following. In 2017, amendments to the list of medical contraindications to recognize persons unfit for military service were made. The list was seriously shortened, which allowed to draft more people. However, according to assurances of law enforcement agencies, they still failed to meet their needs for military servicemen.

The results of the draft for military service announced in the spring of 2019 by the Ministry of Defence officials are doubtful. In the fall of 2018, the maximum number of citizens over the past 10 years was drafted – 13 thousand people. At the same time, for the first time the draft plan was not fulfilled (!). It is unofficially reported that the needs of the army in the new servicemen were satisfied at 84% of the plan. Mechanized brigades lack up to 25% of conscripts. It should be noted that 4.2 thousand conscripts are a maximum of 60% of the draftees that the army received in each draft campaign during the previous decade. A twofold decrease in the number of people sent to military service for six months means either a sudden collapse of the planning and organization system for military service, or the fact that the officially announced figures have little in common with reality. It is worth recalling that in the fall of 2017, the same military officials convinced the public that the death of a soldier Aliaksandr Korzhych was not of a criminal nature. As a result, according to the results of law enforcement inspection in the army after the alleged suicide of a military man, 48 criminal cases were instituted.

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