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

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The most important events of the month. On June 4, 2020 Aliaksandr Lukashenka appointed the new Government. It is headed by the former head of the State Military Industrial Committee (SMIC) Raman Halouchanka. Dzmitry Pantus became the new SMIC chairman, having made a career in industry: since August 2014, he had served as SMIC deputy chairman.

Introducing the new Government, Lukashenka made a number of statements:

— the only way to overcome the crisis which Belarus faces is discipline, dedication and mobilization of the authorities and the entire people to overcome difficulties;

— it is necessary to systematically deal with the issues of regional development;

— the loss of national powers in the economic sphere should not be allowed, all fundamental decisions should be made only within the country by the national authorities;

— measures to protect the internal market of Belarus should be taken, the market “cannot be given in any case to anyone”;

— once again the need to diversify exports and to get away from dependence on the Russian market was declared;

— the new Prime Minister is required to ensure the technological development of the industry;

— some forces are trying to “tear Belarus apart”.

One statement is worth quoting in full: “Some people think: now everything will fall to us from the sky. Make sure that they won’t go to fight to Syria or to Libya.”

The developments within the month. On June 1, 2020 Lukashenka met the head of the State Security Committee (SSC) of Belarus Valery Vakulchik. A significant part of the meeting was devoted to the election campaign. Russia was accused of using its capabilities to act against the Belarusian regime in the information field. Lukashenka once again tried to present himself as the only guarantor of Belarus’ independence: without him, some unnamed external forces would divide Belarus into parts, like it was in 1920-1939. The need for repression was explained by the need to maintain stability in the country. While people can debate in their kitchens. Lukashenka tried to connect public displays of popular discontent to criminals and even the Gestapo.

The same day, at the initiative of the Belarusian side, the Chief of the General Staff of the Belarusian Army Aliaksandr Valfovich and the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Army Valery Gerasimov held a telephone conversation. The parties exchanged views on the military-political situation in the Eastern Europe and stressed the coincidence of views on the security threats of the two countries.

They also discussed issues of bilateral cooperation in the military sphere and interaction within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), including:

— preparation for the CSTO exercise “Indestructible Brotherhood – 2020”;

— preparation for the joint exercise “West-2021”;

— participation of a unit of the Belarusian army in the strategic command and staff exercise “Kavkaz-2020”.

On June 5, 2020 it became known about the possibility of postponing the exercises within the CSTO to other dates due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The final decision will be made taking into account the development of the epidemiological situation in CSTO member states.

On June 9, 2020 Aliaksandr Lukashenka held a meeting on activities in the field of national security.

During the open part of the event, the main attention was paid to the upcoming presidential elections in Belarus:

— Opponents of the government were accused of uncivilized conduct of the election campaign, massive violations of legislation and ethical norms, threats against government officials (without specifying who is threatening whom).

— Once again, the revolution in Ukraine in 2014 was mentioned as a negative example of the political activity of people. According to Lukashenka, “they will have to pay a high price”. At the same time, it is not clear who and how will pay: officials by their status or the country because of foreign intervention.

— Under the pretext of preventing violations of the law, Lukashenka gave the direct order to put pressure on political opponents of the authorities up to and including criminal prosecution.

— Opponents of the authorities allegedly act according to a pre-thought scenario, but not independently, but under the control of non-specified instructors. The apogee of this mysterious scenario is the provocation of bloodshed.

On the same day, a meeting of the SMIC board was held. The results of the work for the first 4 months of this year, as well as the formation of the Strategy for the development of the defence sector of the economy and SMIC in particular until 2030 were discussed.

The SMIC organizations ensured the fulfilment of the planned parameters of socio-economic development. But at the same time, there is a lag from last year’s indicators, explained by the coronavirus pandemic, which led to the suspension of the work of foreign customers and component suppliers. In addition to the pandemic, there are other problems: difficulties with the export of products/services; the growth of overdue accounts payable and receivable, overdue loans and borrowings; issues of preservation of human resources and timely payment of wages.

SMIC will fulfil the planned development indicators by the results of the six months. However, judging by the fact that this requires the additional measures, SMIC is not particularly optimistic about the future.

Not all SMIC scientific organizations demonstrate the presence of promising developments. At the same time, the existing mechanisms for financing innovative activities are not used enough (i.e. there is money, but there are not enough developments worth funding). The potential of cooperation between scientific organizations and organizations producing weapons and military equipment is not fully used.

The main projects in the field of R&D for the development, modernization and repair of weapons have been identified. These projects will be carried out in the interests both of the Belarusian MoD and of foreign customers.

On June 11, 2020, negotiations between the Minister of Defence of Belarus, Major General Viktar Khrenin, and the Minister of Defence of Ukraine Andrei Taran took place. The parties discussed issues of international and regional security, the state and prospects for the development of bilateral military cooperation.

On the same day Lukashenka met the Chairman of the Investigative Committee Ivan Naskevich. It is stated that according to the results of five months of this year, the crime rate compared to the same period in 2019 decreased by almost 13.5%.

Development of new legislation on administrative offenses is nearing completion in Belarus. The main direction is to mitigate repressiveness. On June 18, 2020 Lukashenka said that over five years about 16 million violations were registered in the country. More than 3 million people were brought to responsibility. These figures are regarded as a sign of excessive repressiveness of the administrative legislation.

On June 19, 2020, during the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Minsk, an intergovernmental agreement on the mutual recognition of visas was signed. Previously, it had been blocked by the Belarusian side since November 2018.

On June 22, 2020 Lukashenka visited the 38th Airborne Assault Brigade in Brest. During the meeting with the servicemen, he made a number of statements. So, the stated task is to independently produce the maximum amount of weapons and ammunition. This is a long-term strategy. Lukashenka also accused “separate states” of rewriting history and belittling the role of Belarus in World War II.

The state’s ability to improve the prestige of military service will be determined by the economic situation in the country. Given the current situation, one should not expect any additional social benefits for the military and law enforcement agencies.

Lukashenka said that the task of the army is to maintain stability and harmony in society. Many perceived this as a threat to use the army against the political opponents of the regime. However, these fears seem unfounded: the regime still has enough available forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the SSC. Rather, it is a traditional call to strengthen “patriotic and educational work” with society. Traditionally, no one knows how to carry out this work.

On June 24-27, the city of Minsk faced a situation of water collapse of a previously unprecedented scale: as a result of the misuse of chemicals for disinfection in the capital’s water supply system, about 800 thousand (!) people were deprived of drinking water.

On June 25, 2020 the Minister of Internal Affairs of Belarus Yury Karaeu said that the protests “… are well organized, managed via Telegram channels”. According to Karaeu, the protests are also controlled through the stream broadcasting of “Radio Liberty”.

On the same day, Lukashenka announced “outside interference” in the election campaign. According to him, an alleged campaign to discredit the authorities was launched via the Internet. Moreover, the initiators of this campaign are in Russia. They are associated with the ex-Ambassador of this country to Belarus Mikhail Babich.

On June 29, 2020, the Chief of the General Staff of the Belarusian Army A. Valfovich and the Chief of the Defence Staff of the British Armed Forces Nick Carter held telephone talks. The state and prospects of bilateral military cooperation, interaction in the field of peacekeeping were discussed. Judging by the comments of the Belarusian MoD, the parties also discussed specific measures within the framework of the Belarusian-British military cooperation.

Despite statements by the authorities about a decrease in the incidence of Chinese coronavirus, restrictive measures in the army have not been cancelled. So, for the first time, the ceremony of taking the oath by young soldiers was held without the invitation of relatives. They could track the event online. All recruits were isolated for two weeks after arriving in the troops. The seriousness of the situation with Covid-19 is evidenced by the fact that the prosecutor’s office has suspended preventive measures in the military.

In June, the border agencies of Belarus and Russia conducted a joint special border operation “West-2020”. The objectives included the following: suppression of cross-border crime and ensuring compliance with national legislation on the state border. As part of the operation, illegal migrants who travelled to the EU were detained and several smuggling channels were blocked. At the same time, the parties did not report specifics regarding the results achieved within the operation.

In June, the deadline for refusing to extend the lease of military facilities in Belarus by Russia expired. As expected, the parties indicated their readiness to start negotiations on the extension of the lease agreement.

Command and staff exercises in territorial defence were held:

— On June 16-17, in the Liachavičy region the exercises on the formation of territorial troops and storage of the necessary material resources took place;

— On June 23-25, in the Pinsk region, the territorial defence forces trained command during strengthening sections of the border, fighting saboteurs, protecting objects, ensuring martial law and eliminating the consequences of the use of weapons by the enemy.

The training of specialists for combat quadcopters manufactured by the “Display” Design Bureau” OJSC and equipped with RPG-26 rocket-propelled grenades, PTAB-2.5, PTAB-10-5 small-sized aviation bombs, continued in June. This year, more than 80 flights have been performed for this purpose. Improvement of quadcopters will continue.

Conclusions. Lukashenka’s parting words to the new Government mean a transition to economic nationalism and protectionism. In this regard, there is a question about the prospects for Belarus’ participation in integration projects in the post-Soviet space, which provides for the transfer of some important powers in favour of supranational bodies. An attempt to sabotage the activities of the EAEU (Vladimir Putin’s favourite toy) will create an additional field of conflict in Belarusian-Russian relations.

At the same time, it was announced that Belarusian authorities would refuse even to discuss economic reforms and liberalization: discipline implies routine and control, not freedom.

Export diversification is the endless song of the Belarusian regime. Unfortunately, there is nothing to boast about in this part. The same for the development of regions of the country. It must be admitted that the authorities are making serious efforts to preserve and develop social infrastructure in the province. But the results of regional economic policy are almost completely disastrous.

Lukashenkf’s passage about the prospects for some Belarusians to fight in Libya and Syria can only be addressed to one professional group — the security forces. The level of material support of which is significantly lower than that of their Russian counterparts. The message of the Belarusian ruler is that: a) you will have to pay for higher income levels with the prospect of participating in military operations abroad; b) one should not count on the growth of material security for the security forces, since in Belarus everyone is for peace.

The change in the SMIC top management will not lead to fundamental changes in the military-technical policy of the state and development priorities of the military-industrial complex. The latter are determined based on considerations of economic efficiency, national defence needs and the prestige of the state.

Throughout June, the regime took steps to intimidate and discredit the Belarusians, who actively express their dissatisfaction with the situation in the country. Arrests, criminal prosecution of opposition activists, stories about destructive external interference in Belarusian affairs (with allusions to Russia), threats of bloodshed in the event of the collapse of the ruling regime are called upon to confront the new reality of Belarusian politics: the regime is losing internal legitimacy, its policies no longer meet the wishes of society, and Lukashenka personally causes nothing but irritation among a significant part, and most likely among the majority of Belarusians.

At the same time, the official Minsk continued its attempts to resume the political dialogue with the Kremlin. The June talks between the chiefs of general staffs of the armies of Belarus and Russia should be considered within the framework of general Belarusian-Russian political relations (taking into account the prospects for the participation of Belarusian servicemen in the “Kavkaz-2020” exercise). Obviously, the approval of the agreement with Russia on the mutual recognition of visas is from the same series of the need to restore communication between Putin and Lukashenka. However, so far these attempts are unsuccessful: in June, Lukashenka twice participated in events in Russia dedicated to the events of World War II. During these visits Putin refused to discuss acute issues of bilateral relations with his Belarusian counterpart.

Speaking about the results of the June talks between the defence ministers of Belarus and Ukraine, it is worth recalling that in March this year Kyiv joined the EU sanctions against Belarus. Which practically suppresses military-technical cooperation between the two countries. Although the very fact of contacts at the highest level of Belarus and Ukraine military departments is positive, one can speak of the prospects for bilateral cooperation in the field of defence only in terms of political dialogue.

The sharp decline in the crime rate this year can be explained in part by the decrease in the level of street crime due to the de-facto regime of self-isolation, which was followed by a significant number of Belarusian citizens. Partly this can be explained by rigging statistical data, which is associated with the upcoming presidential elections and the need to please the electorate and personally Lukashenka by improving the situation in at least some significant area.

The repressive nature of Belarusian legislation is not new. Lukashenka personally initiated this situation. Changes in the legislation on administrative offenses are dictated by the desire to reduce the level of public discontent with the state of affairs in the country without changing the political system.

The only country rewriting the history of World War II in order to privatize a common victory is Russia. An attempt to establish Moscow’s monopoly on a common historical past destructively hits the foundations of the Belarusian state ideology, which is based on the mythology of that war. Belarusian state propaganda is unable to effectively resist the Russian one.

It is worth noting that the idea of ​​using the army to suppress internal unrest actually has a 10-year history: back in 2011, the possibilities of using the army to suppress mass protests were discussed. The military had to be used not directly, but to perform auxiliary functions (transport, protection of objects, etc.). The use of the army to perform gendarme functions is fraught with the threat of military personnel’s joining the protesters. The Belarusian regime has learned this foreign experience well.

Several conclusions can be drawn from the water collapse in Minsk. Firstly, it is the lack of coordination in the actions of the authorities. Minsk authorities initially argued that there were no problems, except for an unpleasant smell, the water was suitable for drinking. The corresponding story was shown on state television. But after at least 15 people sought medical help after drinking water, and the Internet was full of images of skin lesions after using tap water, the Ministry of Health banned the use of this water for drinking. Secondly, the conclusion on the causes and culprits of water collapse has not yet been officially given. Obviously, we are talking about high-ranking officials in the city management system. The authorities are not ready to take responsibility for what happened. Thirdly, the vulnerability of the infrastructure of life support in Minsk of 2 million was demonstrated. Everyone saw the inability of the authorities to eliminate the problem in a short time and organize a temporary supply of drinking water on the required scale. So, for 800 thousand people, only about 30 points of drinking water supply were organized with the help of the army.

It is unlikely that the terms of the deal on the extension of Russia’s lease of military facilities in Belarus have undergone significant changes. The interesting thing here is period for which the parties will extend the lease. Russia is interested in the longest possible rental period. Belarus — in the possibility of using Russian military facilities as a tool for periodical bargaining with the Kremlin. Thus, from the Belarusian point of view, it would be optimal to extend the lease by 5 years or less.

According to the Concept for the Development of the Armed Forces of Belarus, approved at the end of 2019, it is planned to equip the Ground Forces with the UAVs from 2021. Units for the operation of the UAV are to be formed this year. A UAV unit has already been formed in the 11th mechanized brigade. Previously — in the Special Operations Forces. Obviously, the task is to equip these units only with reconnaissance UAV complexes. The creation of a full-fledged combat UAV is progressing with difficulty. Back in June 2017, it was reported that preliminary tests of the “Burevestnik-MB” UAV, capable of carrying self-guided kamikaze drones, were conducted for pinpoint strikes against targets at a distance of up to 40 km. At that time, representatives of the Belarusian MoD and of a number of other countries showed preliminary interest in the project. But there are no concrete results yet.

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