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The most important events of the month. In December, on the initiative of Aliaksandr Lukashenka, the budget legislation was amended. In particular, the amendment included the rule on an emergency budget, which is formed in wartime or in the event of a growing threat “for financing measures to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Belarus”. The point is that this budget is adopted by the president, not by the parliament. The report on execution is also received by the president. He also decides on the termination of the emergency budget.
In this case, not the changes in legislation themselves are important, but the time and initiator of these changes. 2018 may become a pre-election year for Belarus before the presidential elections of 2019. There is a high probability that they will be held in the first quarter of the next year. For 26 years Belarus lived without a rule on an emergency budget. In conditions when acts of the president can replace any law or code it was not a problem even in the event of a possible crisis. Given the slowness of the Belarusian bureaucracy, the introduction of a rule on the emergency budget indicates that the sentiments among the highest political leaders of Belarus are not so optimistic. Which can be connected with the uncertainty of the Belarusian-Russian political relations. During the entire period of President Lukashenka’s Moscow rule acted as a kind of political, financial and information “shield” of the ruling regime in Belarus. Current trends in relations do not give grounds for the Belarusian authorities to count on unequivocal support from Russia. The neutrality of the Kremlin regarding the presidential elections in Belarus and their results is rather the maximum that Lukashenka can count on.
The developments within the month. On December 1, 2017 the agreement between the governments of Belarus and Russia on joint technical support of the regional grouping of forces came into force. The document regulates the interaction of the armies of the two countries in the organization of joint technical support for a joint military grouping.
The agreement stays that in order to provide technical support to the Russian part of the regional group, the Russian Defence Ministry in peace-time accumulates and contains the necessary supplies of weapons, military equipment and other material assets on its own territory. In the period of direct threat of aggression, these stocks can be moved to Belarus and if necessary, provided to the Belarusian army for free.
On the same day, December 1, 2017, Aliaksandr Lukashenka sent greetings to the guests and participants of the conference dedicated to the centennial anniversary of the First All-Belarus Congress. Which, in the opinion of the Belarusian leader, was the result of the idea of self-determination initiated by the people of Belarus. “… Only the people, their will, collective intelligence and leaders can become a true source of independence”, the greeting says. At the same time President Lukashenka threw a “bridge” of historical continuity from the First All-Belarus Congress, which was in fact an expression of the will and aspirations of the nation, to the All-Belarus People’s Congresses, invented by him (Lukashenka). These Congresses are the imitation of popular representation. The result of the First All-Belarus Congress was the proclamation of the bourgeois-democratic Belarusian People’s Republic in early 1918.
In early December, the Minister of Defence of Latvia, Raymonds Bergmanis visited Minsk. On December 5, 2017, he met with the head of the Belarusian military department, Andrei Raukou. The issues of regional security and Belarusian-Latvian cooperation in the military sphere were discussed. A cooperation plan for 2018 was signed after the meeting.
On December 7-9, 2017 in a Chinese delegation led by deputy head of the State Administration for Defence Science, Technology and Industry Xu Zhanbin visited Minsk. The delegation included the heads of the leading corporations of China’s military industry “CASIC”, “NORINCO”, “ALIT”, “AVIC”, “CATIC”.
During the meeting of the delegation from China with the leaders of the State Military-Industrial Committee of Belarus, the results and prospects of joint projects in the field of military-technical cooperation were discussed.
Members of the Chinese delegation visited a number of enterprises of the Belarusian military-industrial complex. A presentation of the “Great Stone” industrial park specially for the leaders of Chinese companies was held. Earlier, Aliaksandr Lukashenka appealed to the China with a proposal to organize joint production of defence products in Belarus, including in the “Great Stone” park.
On December 8, 2017 the head of the Department for International Military Cooperation of the Defence Ministry of Belarus Aleh Voinau took part in the meeting of the NATO Committee on Partnership and Joint Security in the “Belarus + NATO” format in Brussels. The issues of regional security and prospects for development of cooperation with NATO were discussed.
On the same day it was announced that the Council of Ministers of Belarus approved the draft program on the improvement of shared military infrastructure facilities of the so-called “Union state” of Belarus and Russia. The total amount of financing will be about USD 20 million for four years. In total, 90 infrastructure facilities of the two countries are planned to be repaired or modernized. On the average, one object will get slightly more than USD 220 thousand. It is worth noting that the fact of investment within the framework of the program does not entail a change in ownership of the objects. The Russian ones will belong to Russia, and the Belarusian – to Belarus.
On December 11, 2017 there were changes in the command of the special services of Belarus. Andrey Paulyuchenka, who previously headed the President’s Security Service (hereinafter referred to as PSS) became the head of the Operational Analytical Centre (hereinafter referred to as the OAC). Dzmitry Shakhraeu became the head of the PSS. Prior to that, he held the post of deputy head of the PSS and for a month served as the head of the OAC. Obviously, President Lukashenka liked Shakhraeu’s manner of command.
During the announcement of personnel decisions, Aliaksandr Lukashenka directly linked issues of internal security of the state and corruption. It was stated that, besides the OAC, the PSS is engaged in fighting corruption. Which is surprising, since the President’s Security Service is a body of state protection, i.e. formally has a narrow specialization.
Lukashenka also demanded the OAC and the PSS to work in close coordination. Which will be also connected with the new appointments: the leaders of these special services are aware of the nuances of work in both of them.
On December 12-14, 2017 a meeting of the Joint Belarusian-Ukrainian Demarcation Commission took place in Kyiv. The results of demarcation work on the state border between the two countries, which intensified in the second half of 2017, were summed up.
On December 18, 2017, the talks between representatives of the Belarusian and British Defence Ministries on the development of bilateral military cooperation were held. As a result, a Joint Statement on Cooperation between the Ministries of Defence of the two countries and the Military Cooperation Plan for 2018 were signed. During the meetings, the parties showed mutual interest in the training of peacekeepers for UN operations.
On December 19, 2017, a meeting of the Council of security agencies and special services heads of the CIS member states took place. The event was attended by representatives of the special services of Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Serbia. The issues of combating international terrorism; counteraction to radicalization of the population, introduction of representatives of extremist religious groups in state bodies and public circles; use of the International Bank for Combating Terrorism; the results of the “Zaslon-2017” exercise to neutralize saboteurs on the objects of transport infrastructure and vehicles; the fight against drug trafficking and other were discussed. It was stated that about 20,000 citizens of CIS countries suspected of involvement in terrorist and religious extremist structures were left to border control.
On December 26, 2017, an informal summit of CIS heads of state took place. Earlier President Lukashenka stated that his meeting with Vladimir Putin in order to discuss important issues was being prepared. However, at the summit the Russian leader found time for meeting the presidents of Moldova and Kazakhstan, but not for his formally closest ally.
In December, the State Security Committee (SSC) of Belarus celebrated its 100th anniversary. Although the anniversary is absolutely artificial (the KGB of the USSR was formed on 13.03.1954), during the official events a number of interesting statements were made. Thus, Aliaksandr Lukashenka once again spoke about the threat of destabilization of society as a real one, which the Committee must fight. SSC plays an important role in the field of economic security and fighting corruption.
The interview of SSC Chairman Valery Vakulchyk was very informative. He gave big attention to the positive human and professional characteristics of his subordinates. He also said that:
— the national government communication system is established (including the development and production of the entire line of technical means of communication in secure execution and encryption equipment, created jointly by the SSC and the Belarusian State University cryptographic school);
— conducting reconnaissance against neighbouring countries is the norm, and not an exception from the rules;
— the main task of the SSC is controlling the activity of foreign intelligence services in Belarus and stopping it if such activity jeopardizes meaningful national interests;
— over the past five years, the intelligence activity of 10 employees and 26 agents of special services of foreign states was detected and stopped, 13 of them were brought to criminal responsibility;
— the SSC practices the exchange of foreign intelligence officers/agents for Belarusian citizens detained abroad (obviously, not for ordinary tourists);
— the criminal case against the citizen of Ukraine Pavel Sharoiko, accused of espionage, is at the final stage of the investigation, since by the time of his detention a sufficient evidence base had already been collected and his detention was of a technical nature;
— over the past three years, the SSC, within the framework of the investigation of economic criminal cases, returned to the treasury more funds than the state spent on the maintenance of the special services.
On the eve of the anniversary, a virtual guide on the museum of the Committee was created on the SSC website. From the exposition it follows that the special service sees its roots much earlier than the formation of the USSR: from the 11th century and onwards in the era of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
Within the framework of events timed to the formal anniversary of the SSC, the head of the State Security Service of Georgia Vakhtang Gomelauri visited Belarus. During the visit an agreement on the exchange of secret information and bilateral protection between the two countries was signed.
The issue of agreement on Russia’s renting two military facilities on the territory of Belarus (the radio unit “Baranavichy” with the missile attack warning station and the 43rd communication centre of the Navy in Vileika), which expires in 2020, will be solved in 2018. The existing intergovernmental agreement provides for the possibility of extending the period of use of these facilities each time for a new 5-year period.
In December, the plans for the purchase of new equipment for the Air Force and Air Defence Forces were announced. The purchase of another batch of combat training aircraft Yak-130 (4 units) is being discussed. Procurement of Tor-M2 surface-to-air missile systems as well as new radar stations of domestic and Russian production will continue.
Some results of the fight against illicit drug trafficking for 2017 were announced. Thus, the amount of seized narcotic drugs increased 62 times as compared with 2016. At the same time, the total number of criminal cases related to illicit drug trafficking decreased by almost 16%.
Also in 2017, the Ministry of Internal Affairs seized more than 550 thousand litres of alcoholic beverages and alcohol in excess of USD 2.2 million of the illegal turnover. More than 90% of this amount comes from Russia.
The end of 2017 became noteworthy for another event: late in the evening on December 31, during the television speech of Aliaksandr Lukashenka with New Year congratulations, the sites of the main state television channels were attacked by hackers. The attack ceased after Lukashenka finished his speech.
Conclusions. Although the agreement on joint technical support of the regional grouping of the troops of Belarus and Russia caused a wave of speculation regarding the establishment of Moscow’s control over the Belarusian military potential, in fact there is nothing in the document that would testify to this theory. The parties retain at their disposal and property all military objects and infrastructure. While implementing this agreement they are guided by national legislation.
It is obvious that Belarusian authorities are carrying out an ideological turn from Soviet mythology to national history. The reason for this is a generational change in the ruling class, when old Soviet leaders are replaced by new managers who do not suffer from nostalgia for the Soviet Union. Another reason is the actual privatization of the Soviet historical heritage by Russia, as a result of which the words “Soviet” and “Russian” became synonymous.
The Chinese military-industrial complex delegation visited Belarus in December and included representatives of companies, producing the goods of the greatest interest to Belarus: UAVs (including combat ones), wheeled armoured vehicles, small and medium-range air defence systems, high-precision weapons and ammunition.
The requirement of close coordination between the OAC and the PSS is unusual, since these are highly specialized organizations and their spheres of activity do not coincide. But they can be united within the same department. On the one hand, it contradicts President Lukashenka’s previous strategy of fragmentation of law enforcement agencies. On the other hand, the unification of the PSS and the OAC will strengthen the control over the highest officials. Which can be necessary in the case of a realistic prospect of an acute political crisis.
It is interesting to note that from the 36 spies and agents, identified by SSC, only 13 were prosecuted. Even if we assume that 9 spy-foreigners were expelled from Belarus in order to avoid political complications, and another 1 was exchanged for Belarusian citizens, there is a question about the fate of the remaining 13 people. Theoretically, they could be exempted from criminal liability in connection with the voluntary cessation of unlawful activities and cooperation with SSC. But one can not exclude attempts to disorient foreign intelligence services operating in Belarus: any agent may be a double one.
Doctrinal documents in the field of national security of Belarus point to a decline in the level of patriotism in society as a threat. The manifestation of this decline is the alienation of the society from the defence and law enforcement agencies, the unsatisfactory level of citizens’ readiness to protect the state. Obviously, the defence and law enforcement agencies face the task of increasing the level of trust and public support. In addition, in the conditions of the economic crisis, competition for a share of the shrinking budget “pie” is increasing. Closeness of special services begins to play against them: taxpayers are not inclined to approve spending on their maintenance, as they do not realize the nature and significance of their activities. Information on the “self-sustainability” of the SSC aims to reduce the possible public discontent with the growing costs of its maintenance. In addition, the Committee seeks to refute the allegations of insufficient patriotism due to excessively close ties with Russian special services.
In case of Moscow’s desire to extend the period of use of military facilities in Belarus (which is almost 100% probable), Belarus will not object. Judging by the fact that the Russia is conducting (or has already carried out) the modernization of the missile attack warning station “Volga” (the main object of the radio node “Baranavichy”), Moscow intends to maintain its military presence in Belarus after 2020.
In connection with the announced plans to purchase new equipment for the Belarusian Air Force, it is interesting to note that in the near future the Belarusian military command does not consider the possibility of implementing a previously signed contract for the purchase of a squadron of Russian heavy Su-30SM fighters.
The increase in seized narcotic substances can be associated with several successful law enforcement operations, as a result of which large quantities of drugs were intercepted. This does not directly reflect the development of the situation with illegal drug trafficking in Belarus.