Situation in the field of national security and defence of Belarus (July 2020)

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According to the result of the presidential elections on August 9, 2020, Belarus faced the most severe political crisis since 1996. During peaceful protests against vote rigging, the regime provoked violent clashes with the people. In one of which, on the night of August 11, 2020, a protester Aliaksandr Taraykouski was killed. The officials claim that the cause of death was the explosion of an improvised explosive device. Eyewitnesses and videos report that he died as a result of the use of gum bullets by the Interior Ministry officers.

The political crisis caused by the falsification of the presidential election results by the authorities is in progress. But this is the framework that will determine the Belarusian policy for the coming months, and, most likely, until the end of 2022.

The most important events of the month. In July, Aliaksandr Lukashenka visited brigades of the Special Operations Forces of the army and special forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Although the visit was not announced as a pre-election tour, in fact it was. The statements of the Belarusian ruler had a clear goal: to intimidate the society with the possibility of political instability escalating into a war and “barking” towards itself the army, which remains the most authoritative state institution in the country (although it should be understood that the declarative position of the respondents during the polls does not always coincide with their actual opinion).

On July 16, 2020, during a visit to the 103rd Viciebsk Airborne Brigade, Lukashenka was reported on a peacekeeping company that can perform tasks within the framework of the UN missions, the CSTO and the NATO Partnership for Peace program. The statement about the readiness of the Belarusian military to act jointly with NATO, albeit in limited cases, is quite interesting as a political declaration.

Lukashenka noted that the participation of Belarus in international military competitions is part of the policy of preventing external aggression by demonstrating the high level of training of Belarusian military personnel.

State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Andrei Raukou, accompanying Lukashenka, said that the army seeks to be ready for any development of the situation. He continued to voice the already traditional horror stories of the Belarusian authorities: the last wars began with an internal political crisis; the West has been preparing Ukraine for some “radical action” for 20 years, while Russia has only tried to resist this. Then he voiced a tirade, from which it followed that the army, being a power tool of the state, could be involved in an internal political crisis in order to “… prevent the death of the state, prevent bloodshed among the people”. According to Raukou, such threat begins with the internal destabilization of the situation in the country while behind all this there are unnamed powerful and insidious external forces. Therefore, the army was preparing, is preparing and will be preparing to prevent “… any terrorist manifestations, riots, etc.”. The statement caused a scandal.

On July 24, 2020 Lukashenka visited the 5th brigade of the army special forces. It was said again that all wars now begin with massive protests and the 5th SOF brigade and the 120th mechanized brigade were prepared, among other things, to prevent an escalation within the country. Further, Lukashenka said that private military companies are being used to destabilize the political situation. He announced the possibility of using the 5th SOF brigade in the internal political confrontation, citing the experience of the United States. At the same time, Andrei Raukou noted that the risks of a large-scale war for Belarus are currently minimal. Conflicts of a limited scale are more likely. Then he continued the old tales that the war will be preceded by internal political destabilization and that one should be ready for this option.

On July 28, 2020, visiting a SOF brigade of the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Lukashenka said that the expenditures for law enforcement agencies depend on the results of the economy. The state will try to maintain a competitive level of pay, but there will be no “money thrown from a helicopter”. The Belarusian army today is capable of independently ensuring the military security of the state.

The developments within the month. On July 6, 2020, Lukashenka, handing over the general’s shoulder straps to the senior officers, announced the destruction of the arms control system, the clash of geopolitical centres of power and the militarization of Eastern Europe. This leads to an increase in risks in the military sphere and results in the aggravation of international contradictions.

On July 8, 2020 Secretary of State of the so-called “union state of Belarus and Russia” Grigory Rapota made a number of statements regarding the development of Belarusian-Russian cooperation:

— the Belarusian side opposed a single union visa, as a result, the parties reached an agreement on the mutual recognition of visas;

— there are contradictions associated with the supply of certain types of weapons and other military products;

— the military doctrine of the “union state”, the draft of which was approved by Vladimir Putin (but not by Aliaksandr Lukashenka) in December 2018, is being updated and there is hope for its adoption.

On July 13, 2020 First Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Henadz Kazakevich said that in the event of a threat to national security and “… the threat of the spread of any destructive information”, the authorities can block access to dangerous (for the regime) Internet sites. But blocking Telegram is technically impossible.

On July 14, 2020, the Chairman of the State Military Industry Committee Dzmitry Pantus and the Chairman of the Presidium of the Defense Industry of the Administration of the President of Turkey Ismail Demir held negotiations via video conference. The parties discussed issues of deepening military-technical cooperation, including cooperation ties and the creation of joint ventures. At the same time, cooperation was discussed both at the interstate level and at the level of specific organizations and companies.

On July 20, 2020, the 5th meeting of the Joint Committee for Cooperation between the Governments of Belarus and the United Arab Emirates in the format of a videoconference was held. It is interesting that the Belarusian part of the participants (about 25 representatives of government bodies and enterprises) was headed by the head of the State Military Industry Committee Dzmitry Pantus. The parties discussed a wide range of issues of cooperation in the field of trade, economy and security.

On July 23, 2020 Lukashenka demanded that officials respond to what was said to be “destructive in the media”. Under that definition the authorities mean objective informing the audience about the problems and about mass protests in Belarus. If necessary, representatives of foreign media should be deprived of their accreditation and expelled from the country.

A scandalous event in July was the detention on July 29, 2020 in Belarus of 33 Russian citizens, who, as the Belarusian side initially claimed, are fighters of the Kremlin proxy army, the so-called PMC “Wagner”. According to the official Belarusian version, they arrived in our country to organize terrorist activities among a group of about 200 militants. One should note, that allegedly Wagner fighters arrived to Belarus on July 24, 2020: on the very day when Lukashenka announced the possibility of using fighters of foreign PMCs to destabilize the situation in Belarus. We have dedicated several materials to this event: source, source.

On July 30, 2020, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry held meetings with Russian Ambassador Dmitry Mezentsev and Acting Head of the Ukrainian Embassy Petro Vrublevsky. The Russian side was asked for information related to the detained Wagner troops. While the Ukrainian diplomat was asked about the relevant information that can be used for a comprehensive analysis and assessment of the reasons for the mercenaries presence in Belarus (most of the detainees took part in the hostilities in the Donbas). The parties agreed on strengthening the border regime on the Belarusian-Ukrainian border in order to prevent destabilization of the situation in both countries.

On July 31, 2020, a telephone conversation took place between the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus Uladzimir Makei and Ukraine’s MFA head Dmytro Kuleba. The Ukrainian side was informed about the measures to “… ensure the stability of the internal political situation in the Republic of Belarus and strengthen control over the crossing of the state border by foreign citizens.” Obviously, this is connected with the election campaign.

Later it was reported that Ukraine intends to seek the extradition by Belarus of 28 detained Wagner troops who participated in hostilities in Donbass.

In July, control exercises on the tactical and special training of the signal troops were held. The goal was to test the readiness to complete tasks in any conditions. For the first time, the issues of interaction and interfacing of the Army’s communications system with technological communications networks of other government departments were trained. In the exercises, only new and modernized communication equipment was used, including the Voskhod satellite communication station and the Cayman-KAS complex control room, which were put into service this year. A field communication network with a total length of 1,300 kilometres was deployed. The issues of deploying elements of the Army’s communications system in unfamiliar areas within a limited time frame have been trained.

Conclusions. Statements about the possibility of using the Armed Forces in the course of a political crisis are a way of psychological pressure on the opponents of the authorities and intimidating vacillating voters with threats of destabilization and internal armed conflict. The Belarusian state propaganda promotes a false chain of “political protests – destabilization of the situation in the country – external interference – war” aimed at intimidating the citizens of Belarus and their political demobilization in order to force them to falsely choose the lesser of two evils (Lukashenka or war). In the context of the politicization of society and the loss of the regime’s ability to dictate the political agenda, statements about the possibility of using the army for political purposes within the country negatively affect the perception of it by society.

Speaking about the prospects for improving the financial support of the law enforcement agencies, we note that practically all of them have been underfunded during the entire period of Lukashenka’s rule. The MIA Internal Troops are no exception. The issue of providing servicemen with housing can be considered indicative here: 1.8 thousand people are on the lists of those in need; since 2015, 472 apartments have been built using state support, and 331 more apartments have been built under the state investment program. Thus, it will take at least 11 years to resolve the issue of providing housing for the military personnel of the Interior Ministry.

In July, not a single event by the prosecutor’s office to maintain the rule of law among the troops was noted. Obviously, despite the cheerful statements about the victory over Covid-19 in Belarus, the favourable epidemiological situation in the law enforcement agencies, prosecutors have reason to worry about the safety of their health and avoid mass gatherings of military personnel.

Speaking about the adoption of the Belarusian-Russian allied military doctrine, it is worth noting that it should be approved at a meeting of the Supreme State Council of the so-called “union state”. The last one took place in June 2018.

The creation of joint enterprises of the military-industrial complex of Belarus and Turkey is a serious progress in bilateral military-technical cooperation. It is not yet clear in the interests of which of the parties the technology transfer will be carried out when creating such enterprises. There is mutual interest in the products that the parties produce.

State Military Industry Committee has a long-standing and, perhaps, the most positive experience of cooperation with the UAE. Probably, it was precisely on the basis of this fact that the head of this department chaired the meeting of the intergovernmental committee on cooperation with the Emirates from the Belarusian side.

The likelihood of the transfer of detained Russian citizens, fighters of the so-called PMC Wagner to Ukraine is minimal. Official Minsk will not dare to cross this red line in relations with the Kremlin. Nevertheless, the scandal has resulted in a crisis of confidence between the law enforcement agencies of Belarus and Russia (primarily at the level of the special services).