The most important events of the month. On February 25, 2020 Aliaksandr Lukashenka made staff appointments in the State Security Committee (SSC) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus:
— General Siarhei Tserabau, who served as the head of the SSC department in the Homiel region, was appointed the first deputy chairman of the State Security Committee;
— Homiel SSC department will be headed by the head of the SSC’s own security department, Colonel Aliaksandr Melnikau;
— The former deputy head of the Main Directorate for Drug Control and Anti-Trafficking in Persons, Colonel Henadz Kazakevich, has been appointed the First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs — the head of the criminal police.
Mr. Tserabau stated the need to strengthen the work of the SSC “… to prevent destructive influence on Belarus from the outside”. While Mr. Kazakevich among the most important areas of work mentioned the fight against corruption and countering extremism.
The developments within the month. On February 1, 2020 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Belarus. Traditionally, an American official expressed support for the sovereignty and independence of Belarus. During the talks, the parties reiterated their interest in restoring full-format diplomatic relations, developing cooperation in law enforcement and in the economy. The parties exchanged the views on issues of regional and international security, including the development of cooperation between Belarus and NATO.
It seems that the publicity of Belarusian law enforcement and military officials is gradually becoming the norm. At least in the framework of official communication. So, the Secretary of State of the Security Council of Belarus Andrei Raukou held meetings in February:
— On February 5, 2020 – with Chinese Ambassador Tsui Jiming;
— On February 6, 2020 – with the state secretary of the so-called “Union state” Grigory Rapota;
— On February 7, 2020 – with the Ambassador of Azerbaijan Latif Gandilov;
— On February 11, 2020 – with the Ambassador of Uzbekistan Nasirjan Yusupov;
— On February 28, 2020 – with the Ambassador of Poland Arthur Michalski.
On February 10, 2020 a decree on the provision of benefits and social guarantees to citizens in connection with conscription for military service and service in the reserve was signed. Propaganda claims that it is “… another significant step in strengthening the status of the defender of the Motherland”. In fact, the bonuses provided are limited, they will not entail significant financial costs from the state and are unlikely to be of interest to youth as a motivation for military service.
On February 13, 2020 the visit to Belarus of the Myanmar military delegation led by the commander of the air defence forces, Lieutenant General Tin Maung Vin ended. The guests visited a number of enterprises of the military-industrial complex of Belarus working in the field of development, production, repair and modernization of air defence equipment. During negotiations with the top management of the State Military Industrial Committee (SMIC), ongoing and promising projects in the field of air defence were discussed.
On February 17, 2020 Aliaksandr Lukashenka approved the decision to protect the State Border in 2020. The event has a largely ritual character. The statements of the Belarusian ruler that “… the challenges and threats to border security do not become smaller from year to year” sounded really ritually. The list of threats is not really reducing. But here their scale as a whole allows to keep the situation under control. Traditionally, the need to develop relations with the European Union in the field of border security has been stated; including for the purpose of receiving financial assistance for the development of border protection infrastructure.
Some information regarding the state of border security and the development of the border agency was stated. Last year, the situation at the border remained controlled. More than 370 state border violators were detained, which is almost half lower than in 2018. 20 channels of illegal migration and 18 channels of drug smuggling were stopped, more than 1 ton of drugs was seized — twice as much as in 2018.
In 2019, the staff of the border agency was increased in order to strengthen the existing units at the border, create new outposts and six manoeuvre groups. In 2020, it is planned to form two more manoeuvre groups and one border outpost.
On February 18-19, the 13th Meeting of the leaders (chiefs of staff) of the national antiterrorist centres of the CIS countries was held. The event was dedicated to cooperation in the fight against terrorism. The following issues were considered:
— counteraction to the activity of single terrorists and “sleeping” cells of terrorist organizations;
— working with people after their presence in areas of armed conflict;
— the combat use of robotic systems and UAVs, as well as counteracting their use for terrorist purposes and regulating activities in this area.
On February 18-21, tactical exercises of the battalion level of the Special Operations Forces of the Army of Belarus and the Airborne Forces of Russia took place in the Pskov Region of Russia. During the evet the troops trained landing at the airdrome captured by the enemy with the aim of recapturing it, raid actions, offensive and defence actions.
On February 19, 2020 in the Viciebsk region hosted an annual meeting with the chairmen of the executive committees of the regions and Minsk on the topic “Military Security and Defence of the Republic of Belarus”. The event was also attended by the country’s top military leadership. The purpose was to increase the level of knowledge of officials on the implementation of combat operations by territorial defence troops and Special Operations Forces. The event was timed to coincide with military training with those liable for the military service, who have to get into territorial defence forces.
On February 19-20, Lukashenka visited Egypt. The event was timed to coincide with the International Exhibition of Scientific and Technical Developments, a significant part of which was taken by the products of the military-industrial complex of Belarus: IT products (integrated border security system and the KIPOD cloud-based intelligent surveillance platform); prototype models of fire weapons ( “Polonaise” missile system and the new medium-range air defence system Buk-MB2(3)K); the “ADUNOK” combat module and the “Legion-B” artillery fire control system; radar equipment and UAV countermeasures; universal combat platform of MRAP class; options for modernizing air defence systems; samples of sighting equipment and surveillance systems. However, the only noticeable result was the signing of a contract for the creation of a joint Belarusian-Egyptian production of UAVs developed by the Academy of Sciences of Belarus, costing only about a million dollars.
On February 19 and 25, shootings of the 9M318 domestic anti-aircraft guided missile were successfully completed. Missiles were used without a warhead. During shootings, control systems, guidance and flight characteristics of the product were checked. The shootings with target destruction are planned for the end of 2020.
On February 19-21, a delegation led by the Minister of Defence of Serbia Alexander Vulin was on an official visit to Belarus. The special character of the Belarusian-Serbian military cooperation is underlined by the fact that Vulin was the only minister to take part in the festivities on the occasion of February 23: Serbia appreciates the political support of Belarus in the Kosovo issue. Serbian delegation held negotiations with the Belarusian military leadership and the leadership of the military-industrial complex. The parties discussed issues of international security and bilateral military as well as military-technical cooperation. The progress of interaction in the field of unmanned aircraft, repair and modernization of air defence equipment was especially noted. The issues of cooperation in the field of military science and education were discussed as well. Thus, Belarusian soldiers will undergo training at the General Staff Officers course at the University of Defence in Belgrade in the academic year 2020/21.
On February 23-25, the companies of Belarusian military-industrial complex took part in the 4th International Exhibition and Conference of Unmanned Systems “UMEX & SimTEX-2020” in the UAE. Belarusian developments in the field of detection and counteraction to various unmanned systems were presented. As far as one can judge, some of them have already been tested in combat conditions in the Middle East.
On February 26-27, an interdepartmental anti-terrorism exercise was held in the Kamianiec district of the Brest region. During the event, the suppression of terrorist threats against critical facilities and the minimization of the consequences of possible technological emergencies were trained. It is interesting to note that the details, as well as the full list of structures involved in the exercise, were not reported.
During February, the army continued to test combat readiness. As it later became known, this was only the first stage of the test. The troops fulfilled the tasks of fire destruction of targets, the use of armoured vehicles, the performance of tasks on air defence. Dozens of aviation equipment were taken away from a conditional strike at the airfield. The aircraft was relocated to new airfields. Low-altitude radar units were redeployed to new areas to increase the radar field.
In February, the Defence Ministry traditionally shares plans for the future. The priorities include the development of reconnaissance and command, electronic warfare, high-precision and long-range weapons. MoD announced plans to increase the capabilities of “Polonaise” missile system to hit targets at ranges up to 500 km. Obviously, we are talking about a ballistic missile, which is created with external technological support. It is also planned to continue the purchase of Su-30SM fighters, to improve the helicopter and unmanned aircraft fleet.
In February, it became known that the medical grounds for recognizing citizens fit for military service were expanded in Belarus.
At the same time, last month the activity of the prosecutor’s office continued to maintain discipline and law and order in the troops. Preventive measures were organized:
— in Mahiliou in the 5th brigade of the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs;
— in the Minsk region in the 2nd brigade of the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs;
— in the 5th brigade of Army Special Forces with a survey of military personnel.
There were also boards of prosecutor’s offices, which examined the state of law and order in the troops for 2019.
So, during the board of the General Prosecutor’s Office, it was stated that the number of crimes in military units reduced from 270 to 162, or by 40%.
In the Mahiliou region, a regional coordination meeting on the state of law and order in the military sphere was held. The list of participants included the district prosecutors, deputy chairmen of city and district executive committees — chairmen of draft commissions, ideologists of executive committees, heads of police, military commissars.
The regional prosecutor Aliaksandr Chadzyuk emphasized the preparation and draft of citizens for military service; military service in the units; performance of military transport duties; conducting military records. He spoke about the main shortcomings in the work of state agencies in this sphere, which in the future may negatively affect the state of combat readiness of troops.
The officials acknowledged the problems with the appearance of draftees for recruitment events, which complicated the recruitment of military units. In 2019, in the Mahiliou region, 78 citizens were prosecuted for evading military service. More than 650 draftees avoided receiving a draft calls on the need to appear for draft events (despite the fact that 1.8 thousand people were sent to the service from the Mahiliou region during the autumn draft of 2019).
Pre-conscription training in schools is failed. There are problems with the organization of military-patriotic education of youth. The cooperation of educational institutions with military units is not systemic.
During inspections in military units in Mahiliou region, prosecutors revealed violations of the law on ensuring the security of military service, preventing crime, property safety, and the fight against corruption, as well as facts of non-observance of the rights and legitimate interests of military personnel. To eliminate these problems, in 2019, the military command submitted 82 acts of supervision, at the request of prosecutors 50 people were brought to disciplinary liability, 4 – to administrative, 5 – to material.
In February, the fourth round of consultations of Belarus and NATO experts on confidence and security measures took place (source). On the sidelines of the event, the development of relations between Belarus and the Alliance, topical issues of international and regional security, non-proliferation and arms control were discussed.
Conclusions. Speaking of personnel appointments in the SSC and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, one should note the following. Siarhei Tserabau (then still a colonel) was sent to head the Homiel administration of the SSC as an anti-crisis manager after it turned out that a number of employees of the department were engaged in activities incompatible with their official status or with the interests of the state in May 2014. Judging by the fact that in March 2017 he received general epaulettes, he was able to restore order in Homiel. It is interesting to note that the post of the SSC First Deputy Chairman remained vacant for almost 3 months: obviously, due to the search for a suitable candidate who could work effectively in the difficult conditions of 2020 and if necessary, head the special service.
Nevertheless, the Homiel region remains under the scrutiny of the central apparatus: Mr. Melnikau was previously responsible for the internal security of the SSC itself.
Colonels Aliaksandr Melnikau and Henadz Kazakevich are moving to generals’ posts. Obviously, this is a reward for existing professional achievements and an incentive for diligence in the future. Both of them are considered as promising managers in their structures.
Further, Lukashenka perceives corruption not just as a dangerous criminal manifestation, but as an undermining of the regime existing in Belarus and a manifestation of disloyalty to him personally. In the absence of obvious achievements of the last cadence, the Belarusian ruler decided to bet on his traditional horse — the fight against abuse by the officials. According to the plan, this should solve several problems: to discipline the bureaucracy, to show Lukashenka a guardian of justice and a defender of the interests of ordinary people, to partially shift the responsibility for the unfavourable state of affairs in the country to bribe-takers, who placed personal selfish interest above the public good.
As for the statements of the newly appointed officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the SSC regarding the fight against extremism and destructive influences from the outside, this is a clear political attitude towards the willingness to neutralize citizens’ discontent with the situation in the country and the manner in which the upcoming presidential elections will be held. Simply put, a return to harsh repressive practices is not excluded; moreover, the SSC and the Ministry of Internal Affairs received the highest instruction to be ready to use them against those who are not satisfied with the regime.
The significance of Mr. Pompeo’s visit is rather symbolic for official Minsk. The Belarusian regime could not avoid the unpleasant topics of the state of human rights and democracy in Belarus. Moreover, according to our information, the American side:
— debunked the hopes of the Belarusian authorities for impunity for political repressions in Belarus under the pretext of the Russian threat. Washington will react if the regime returns to repressive practices;
— would not want official Minsk to use the fact of normalizing relations with the USA to put pressure on the Kremlin. Belarus should make its geopolitical choice consciously and responsibly.
So far, Belarusian issues remain on the far periphery of US interests. Belarus is seen as a part of the puzzle of the overall picture in the region. After the American ambassador returns to Minsk, one can expect that US attention to our country will somewhat increase. But the Donald Trump administration has a widespread view of Belarus as a sphere of sustainable influence of Russia. Moreover, it is of little interest for the United States: in Washington there are no intentions to somehow “tear” Minsk apart from Moscow. But in the event of a hypothetical threat to Belarusian independence from the Kremlin, America will take some steps to support Belarus. At the same time, these steps can hardly be really impressive: the USA, busy with its own problems, does not intend to become a shield for Belarusian independence.
The issue of providing additional guarantees in connection with the draft for military service was publicly voiced by the Ministry of Defence back in August 2016 and agreed with the concerned departments. But only after three and a half years the proposal received legislative registration. Which once again vividly demonstrated the status of the MoD in the system of power in Belarus, and the real price of the pathos of the Belarusian leadership on the importance of national defence.
For Minsk, military-technical and political topics are an instrument for promoting their trade and economic interests in Egypt and more broadly in the Arab East. Belarus is trying to play on the ambitions and military background of the ruling Egyptian elite to solve much more peaceful issues.
Creating own anti-aircraft missile is a project of strategic importance and is under the Lukashenka’s personal control. In the foreseeable future, the Belarusian army may face a shortage of medium-range anti-aircraft missiles due to the expiration of their operational life. The purchase of new missiles, in addition to the financial burden on the budget, means maintaining technical and political dependence on Russia. Which is already becoming undesirable. In addition, the creation of Belarusian medium-range anti-aircraft missile system with its own missile will allow in the future to partially unify the air defence armament and increase the export potential of the Belarusian defence industry.
In the plans for the development of the Army’s weapons, there is still an issue of its financial support: in 2020, the budget of the Ministry of Defence will be cut both in absolute terms and relative to GDP (from 1.12% of GDP in 2019 to 1.03%). It is also necessary to mention the impact of the probable BYN devaluation, taking into consideration that the most expensive part of the army’s technical modernization — purchasing new aircraft — is carried out through imports.
Speaking about the change in the medical grounds for declaring a person fit for military service, we note that in fact we are talking about the third stage of legislative adjustment since 2017, which is designed to expand the possibilities of drafting citizens for military service. Two stages are connected precisely with easing health requirements. And this is not the end of the story: in the foreseeable future, there will be the question of changing the length of conscription service by limiting/cancelling the practice of shortened term of service for people with higher education.