Situation in the field of national security and defence of Belarus (December 2016)

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The most important events of the month. It is necessary to underline the events that didn’t happen.

Contrary to expectations, the production of small gas turbine engines for cruise missiles with the use of the technologies of the Ukrainian Corporation “Motor Sich” at the facilities of JSC “Orsha aircraft repair plant” hasn’t begun (source). In general, the Belarusian-Ukrainian political relations saw a series of crises in 2016, which didn’t contribute to the transfer of the Ukrainian missile technologies to Belarus (source).

The problems with filling the budget didn’t allow to provide full scale financing for law enforcement agencies in 2016. So, in comparison with the planned level the spending for national defence decreased by about 7.1%, for the police – by around 10%, for the State Border Committee (hereinafter SBC) – by around 4.2 percent, for the State Security Committee (hereinafter SSC) – by almost 6.5%, Ministry of Emergency Situations (hereinafter MES) – by 12.4% (source).

The crisis of political relations with Russia has become almost open. The beginning of December is marked by the arrests of three pro-Russian journalists on charges of fomenting ethnic hatred (source).

On December 20, 2016, Minister of foreign Affairs of Belarus Uladzimir Makei during official visit to Georgia visited the boundary line with South Ossetia, established after the Russian-Georgian war of 2008, which is called the «line of occupation» in Georgia.

On December 22, 2016 the foreign Ministry of Belarus claimed the protest to the representative of the Russian Embassy in Minsk in connection with the statements of the Director of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (hereinafter RISS) Leonid Reshetnikov, who stated that Belarusian language and nation don’t exist.

On December 26, 2016 St. Petersburg hosted the summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (hereinafter CSTO). In fact, on the eve of the event it became known that the Belarusian delegation had cancelled its participation. While in Minsk a week before the summit there was an active preparation for the visit to St. Petersburg. In the end, the issue of a new Secretary General of the CSTO wasn’t discussed because of the absence of representatives of Belarus.

On the same day, Chairman of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus Uladzimir Andreichanka has publicly and sharply criticized Russia for its position on the regime of crossing the Belarusian-Russian border by citizens of third countries. He expressed outrage at the unilateral actions of the Russian side on this issue.

The developments within the month. The month is notable because of criminal cases against the leaders of the largest state-owned industrial enterprises, financial institutions, National Bank, government officials and private sector representatives on charges of corruption.

In December,  the priorities of training of the Belarusian army for the next academic year were announced:

-improving the skills of commanders in the organization and management of special action of forces;

-interaction of the army with other paramilitary structures;

-improving the skills of command and control, including using of geographic information systems, unmanned aircraft systems and automation devices with the aim of enhancing coherence and efficiency during the conduct of special action in conditions of sudden changes in the situation;

-training of independent and autonomous execution of combat tasks in urban environments;

-sudden action at night;

-organization of combat use of company tactical groups.

The main emphasis will be put on the ability of military personnel, including the small tactical units, to perform the tasks independently.

Another battery of Russian anti-aircraft missile systems (hereafter SAM) “Tor-M2E” was transferred to the 740th anti-aircraft missile brigade. The new units should replace the Soviet air defence systems “Osa”. The problem is that the speed of supply is very low, which can mean that the rearmament may take 10 years or more.

In December the plan to launch a new communications satellite system “Belintersat” “…in the framework of the regional grouping of troops” was officially announced for the first time in Belarus. It is not clear what this statement means: either the satellite will be designed exclusively for use in the military interests or the part of its resource will be purchased by Russia for the use within its own system of military communication.

On December 5, 2016 Aliaksandr Lukashenka met with the Marshal of Senate of Poland Stanislaw Karczewski. During the meeting the Belarusian leader declared that he counts on an active dialogue between Belarus and Poland. And that the two countries “…have always lived in peace and harmony”, they have “… very close, and sometimes common history”. President Lukashenka noted that Belarus and Poland need to raise the level of political cooperation.

On December 6, 2016 President Lukashenka appointed the General-major Viktar Lisouski Chief of the Military Academy of Belarus. Earlier General Lisouski headed the Minsk Suvorov Military School, where he reorganized the educational process.

The dialogue with NATO countries in the military sphere continued. During the December 5-6 visit of the Minister of Defence of Belarus Andrei Raukou to Latvia an agreement on cooperation between the defence ministries of the two countries was signed. The document is quite standard and much will depend on the plans of cooperation between the military of the two countries. In any case, the establishment of communications between Minsk and Riga on security issues in the current situation of tension in the region is a very positive fact. Moreover, Latvia is the only neighbour of Belarus, with which there are no and never have been any political or economic conflicts.

On December 13, 2016 the Minister of internal Affairs of Belarus Ihar Shunevich reported on the prosecution of about ten Belarusian citizens, who participated in military action abroad. It is not only about participating in the war in Ukraine. Altogether 171 citizens of Belarus, who as mercenaries were involved in military action, were ascertained. Most of them are on the side of the separatists in the South-East of Ukraine. In 2016 eight of them were charged under various articles of the Criminal code not related to mercenary activities.

On December 15, 2016 listening to a report of the State Secretary of Belarus Security Council Stanislau Zas, Aliaksandr Lukashenka stated the need to continue to enhance law enforcement and security agencies. At the moment a package of proposals on optimization of the structure of the Ministry of internal Affairs is being prepared. The crime situation is under control and it allows to reorganize the Ministry.

The second topic discussed was the improvement of training in the military and paramilitary institutions of higher education. The terms of training in specific subjects will be revised: it is planned to reduce the training of military pilots, communications specialists, and information systems specialists to four years.

On December 15, 2016 President Lukashenka has appointed police Colonel Ivan Padhurski First Deputy Minister of internal Affairs of Belarus. Mr. Padhurski formerly headed the criminal intelligence of the Ministry — the Department to ensure the operational-search activities.

On December 17, 2016 defence Minister Anrei Raukou said that at the moment the overhaul of nine combat helicopters Mi-24 is performed. Starting from February 2017 they will return to the troops – one aircraft per month.

On December 21, 2016 major-General Ihar Dzemidzenka was appointed First Deputy Chairman of the State military-industrial Committee. Previously, he was the head of the Main military Inspectorate of the Armed Forces of Belarus. Nothing was reported about the reasons of resignation of his predecessor, Ihar Bykau.

On December 21, 2016 Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Natallia Kachanava was appointed the head of the presidential Administration of Belarus, which gave reason to numerous speculations. Meanwhile, the logic of Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s choice is clear: he prefers to give responsible positions to technical specialists, who owe him personally for a variety of reasons, not always just career. In this regard, Natallia Kachanava is the perfect candidate: she’s absolutely loyal and demonstrates hostility to the opponents of the authorities; she’s not ambitious and isn’t concerned about her image. Mrs. Kachanava is diligent and disciplined in carrying out any decisions of senior leaders. At the same time she isn’t involved in corruption cases and doesn’t have her team and obligations within the system of senior officials.

On December 27, 2016 Colonel-General Leanid Maltsau was relieved of the post of Chairman of the State border Committee (hereinafter SBC) and dismissed from military service by reason of age. On December 29, 2016 major-General Anatoly Lapo, who previously held the position of Deputy chairman of the agency, was appointed the SBC Chairman.

On December 30, 2016 a training on the use of combat training aircraft Yak-130 as fighters was held. Belarusian military leadership has previously made clear that these aircraft is considered as potential replacement for Su-25. However, the plans for using these aircraft as fighters weren’t reported. There’s foreign experience of using aircraft of this class for low-altitude air defence tasks. However, they can’t be considered as a viable alternative to fighters.

Conclusions. Reduction of budgetary financing of expenses of law enforcement agencies in large measure is connected with the cuts of irregular (premium) payments to employees and officers, the decrease of the number of size of the agencies (for example, MES size was decreased by 10%), freezing of capital expenditures. White priority programmes were funded in sufficient volume, including from extra-budgetary sources. It is obvious that 2017 won’t be easier for Belarusian law enforcement agencies in financial sphere.

There’s nothing new in the statements of the former Director of the RISS Leonid Reshetnikov. He voiced the opinion, which is widespread in the Russian imperialist circles. In addition, on November 2, 2016 Vladimir Putin decided to dismiss Mr. Reshetnikov from the post of Director of the RISS from January 4, 2017. This couldn’t be known in Minsk. But the harsh reaction to the statement of a private person is unusual. This is not the first statement of this kind from Russia. Three pro-Russian journalists arrested in Belarus in December have openly provoked international strife for a long time. However, previously the Belarusian authorities didn’t react to that.

We can find several reasons for the changes in the position of Minsk. The first one is the demonstration to the Belarusian public opinion that the historic and cultural autonomy of Belarusians aren’t a subject for discussion. The second one is demonstration to the West the independence in relations with Moscow. The third one is requirement to the Kremlin to consider Belarus as an independent and equal partner.

By refusing from participating in the CSTO summit without a clear explanation of the reasons at the last moment Minsk demonstrates a readiness to aggravation of the situation and tries to get concessions from Kremlin. Earlier, a similar escalation scheme worked: Russia, seeking to preserve the visibility of the Alliance, made concessions. Currently, however, the situation changed radically. Moscow avoids sharp statements towards Belarus, but as far as can be judged isn’t willing to make concessions and is waiting for the moment when financial difficulties force the official Minsk to be more compliant. The Belarusian leaders expect that Russia can’t tolerate economic and financial collapse of formally its closest ally for image reasons and therefore will be forced to provide financial support for Belarus on acceptable terms. However, the non-participation of Belarusian side in the activities of integration associations under Russia gives the Kremlin an excuse to cancel their policy commitments in support of Belarus. It should be understood that achieving the resolution of the existing contradictions on their own terms is a matter of principle for both Minsk and Moscow. Both sides are not willing to compromise.

Whether they like it or not, the Belarusian authorities block the appointment of the representative of Armenia to the position of CSTO Secretary General, which is positively perceived by Baku and Ankara.

The visit of the «line of occupation» in South Ossetia by Uladzimir Makei is beyond the diplomatic Protocol. Obviously this is a political demonstration of commitment to the principle of unity of Georgia. The corresponding decision was taken to spite Moscow and not by Mr. Makei.

The status of the head of the House of representatives doesn’t involve independent political judgments. Thus, Uladzimir Andreichanka actually acted as a repeater of the position of Aliaksandr Lukashenka. It is obvious that the position of the Belarusian leader is much tougher than the terms used by Mr. Andreichanka.

Thus, the Belarusian-Russian political relations can expect a period of deep freeze in best case. Taking into consideration the presidential elections in Russia it can’t be excluded that the conflict will worsen and scandals will become public.

Supporting the rule of law is just one of the reasons for arrests of high-profile officials charged with corruption. The fact that this was accompanied by extensive coverage in the media shows the propaganda value of the event as well. The main objective is to demonstrate an active fight against one of the evils of the Belarusian reality and to discipline the officials and the directors of public enterprises, reminding them that the control over them is very close even if they don’t see it.

The Belarusian army continues to prepare for the “small” or “hybrid” war, including the situation of the lack of a sustainable management system of the military organization. The practical dimension is carried out according to the thesis that modern war is a war for the cities (source), which was announced by the Secretary of security Council of Belarus Stanislau Zas in October 2016. This corresponds to the views of Western strategists. The latter, however, are more specific in their definitions – the war for the megalopolises. Obviously this requires not only changes in tactics, but also changes in the equipment of the troops, increase of the number of engineering units and heavy armoured crawler vehicles for various purposes. However, at the moment nothing is known about implementing these aspects in Belarus.

The fate of SAM “Osa” is interesting as well. Despite the age, the weapons have a certain military value. Moreover, Belarus has developed upgrades for these systems, and there is a significant supply of anti-aircraft missiles for them. There’s high probability that the SAMs will be transferred to anti-aircraft missile troops, equipped with S-300 systems, to organize their defence at close range. For these purposes five battalions of air defence system “Osa” may be required.

It is doubtful that Russia agreed to depend on Belarus in the field of organization of military communication. Moreover, in recent years, there are considerable efforts for the development of military communication systems in Russia. Only in case of the negative impact of the Western embargo on Russia’s ability to produce satellites Belarus has a chance to act as a provider of such services.

Official Minsk counts on the lobbying potential of Warsaw in Brussels and Washington and thus seeks to avoid the issues of democracy and human rights. Belarus noticed the ambitions of Warsaw to become the moderator of the Eastern policy of the EU and Polish claims to regional leadership. Belarusian authorities may try to play the same game, that earlier was experienced in relations with Russia: to change statements about the shared history and brotherhood for quite real benefit.

The appointment of General A. Lisouski the head of the Military Academy confirms the previously stated assumption about the large-scale reorganization of officer training for the Belarusian army with more practical orientation (source).

Some observers are considering the development of cooperation with NATO countries as evidence of the ability of geopolitical turn of Belarus to the West. Such conclusions have no factual basis. Official Minsk seeks to expand foreign policy and economic influence through the development of cooperation with the countries of the West, which in the last two years are concerned about the security in Eastern Europe. A deterrent to full-scale political cooperation between Belarus and NATO is the thesis that Minsk is the closest military ally of Russia, which is actively supported by the Belarusian authorities. At the same time, in military circles in the West (especially in USA) the view of Belarus as an appendage of Russia in military-political sphere is quite popular. Belarus had to prove its subjectivity to the West and cooperation in the field of defence is a necessary condition for dialogue with the Western capitals. At the same time Belarusian authorities largely don’t perceive Western values, moreover, they consider them dangerous. Therefore, any movement to the West has clear limitations, which are not dictated by fear of Russia’s reaction, but by the desire to preserve the existing power system without any changes.

Another deterrent of cooperation between Belarus and NATO is the position of the U.S., which is not moving towards the official Minsk in political matters. This explains the fact that the level of interaction of Belarus directly with the Alliance remains low.

It’s necessary to pay attention to a small number of Belarusian citizens–participants of combat actions on the territory of other countries who were brought to criminal responsibility. It appears that this is connected with three reasons. Firstly, most of them are outside of Belarus. Secondly, law enforcement agencies have the task not to find and punish, but to “push” the combatants out of the country or to prevent their return to Belarus. Thus the facts of the prosecution play the role of warning and intimidation. This is also evidenced by the fact that all de facto mercenaries were brought to criminal responsibility for other actions. I.e. there is the task of isolating specific people by any available means. Thirdly, some of these persons returning to Belarus could have “bought” avoiding the criminal prosecution for the cooperation with the Belarusian secret services. Due to this, Minsk has a clear picture of the situation in the territories of the so-called “people’s republics” from inside as well as of Russia’s role in the war in Ukraine. 

Traditionally, the optimization in Belarus means reduction of the size and not the rejection of redundant functions. This is inspired by the economic crisis which has a serious impact on budget revenues. However, this very crisis has led to the growth of social tension. There is reason to believe that the Belarusian authorities are considering the possibility of escalation and turning of social tensions into the political ones as real. And this, in turn, allows to talk not about reducing the size of law enforcement agencies, but about the reallocation of resources (including human resources) within the law enforcement agencies are send them to the most important areas. Some (3-10%) growth of the army, border guards and Interior Ministry troops can be expected. This can be achieved by reducing the number of other structures of the Interior Ministry, the optimization of the MES and some increase in the number of conscripts. At the same time the reduction of various kinds of supporting structures of law enforcement agencies may be expected as well as the possible consolidation of structural units, which with respect to the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Emergency Situations may mean the creation of interdistrict departments.

Speaking about a possible optimization of the structure of the Ministry of Internal Affairs we can’t exclude the transfer of the Department of execution of punishments of the Interior Ministry to the Ministry of Justice. In any case, this issue is discussed from time to time. Although it is doubtful that such a move can improve the penitentiary system of Belarus. The reorganization of the Department of citizenship and migration of MIA in a fully civilian agency, devoid of law enforcement functions, and including it  in the structure of Ministry of Justice is also possible.

The reduction of the term of study in higher education schools of law enforcement agencies will allow to fill the existing vacancies faster. At the same time it is a sign of attempts of the government to save funds wherever it’s possible, in this case – on the upkeep of the cadets.

The appointment of Colonel Ihar Padhurski the First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs can be dictated by the need to intensify the fight against economic and corruption crimes. Heading the Department to ensure the operational-search activities he had the opportunity to get an idea about the real scale of the problem, causes and conditions contributing to committing crimes of this category. In the financial crisis and the tense situation with the budget revenues, there is an urgent need to minimize the state losses from illegal activities.

The preservation of the Mi-24 in service means that the Belarusian army doesn’t plan the unification of helicopter park. Which is connected with the to lack of financial resources to purchase the required number of new helicopters Mi-8MTV-5. The delivery of several (4-6 units) combat helicopters Mi-35 (a deep modernization of Mi-24), which was sometimes discussed, is also unlikely.

Speaking about the appointment of Major-General Dzemidzenka First Deputy Chairman of SMIC, it’s necessary to note the following. According to article 58 of the Law of Belarus “On military duty and military service” the age limit of state service for Major-General is 55 years. Dzemidzenka at the time of appointment was 49 years old. There’ high probability that he, remaining on active duty, is assigned to SMIC in order to control military-industrial complex in the interests of the army. His main task is the development of programs of arms supply, control over pricing in this area, the quality and timeliness of service. Practically, this means limiting the autonomy of SMIC in the internal market. SMIC may play the role of the performer, while the Defence Ministry will directly determine the policy of supplies to the domestic market, taking into consideration the wishes of other law enforcement agencies.

The appointment of Natallia Kachanava the head of the presidential Administration of Belarus means that no political transformations in Belarus is planned despite the crisis and the need to restore relations with the West. Aliaksandr Lukashenka isn’t going to leave, isn’t preparing a successor and has no intention to capitulate in the face of Kremlin. The appointment of Mrs. Kachanava in the view of President Lukashenka can improve the performance discipline of local officials, which is a serious problem. However, it is doubtful that in this sphere Natallia Kachanava will achiev more than her predecessors.

The resignation of Leanid Maltsau was unexpected. Despite the fact that he has already reached retirement age, he was put into a category of “all-time” leaders. Although Leanid Maltsau retired with military honors, President Lukashenka, meeting the new Chairman of SBC, spoke to him about the need to repair mistakes made by his predecessor. These mistakes can include Maltsau’s passion for light aviation (gyroplanes and UAVs), which caused skepticism among professionals. In particular, lack of technical and organizational readiness of State Border Committee to the mass introduction of such equipment, especially the gyroplanes.

Addressing the new head of the SBC, Aliaksandr Lukashenka said that the Border guard is a part of the Armed Forces and they must be trained better than the Army. Only the time will tell whether this is the beginning of the transformation of the State Border Committee from the status of a specialized police department into a military organization like Border troops, having existed before 2007.

Working out the use of the Yak-130 in various qualities (attack or fighter aircraft) is an attempt to solve the problem of aging of the aircraft of Belarusian the air force with the use of relatively cheap and versatile light class aircraft. This can be connected with financial problems in the foreseeable future, which give no hope for obtaining aircraft that can adequately replace MiG-29.

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