Situation in the field of national security and defence of Belarus (March 2018)

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The most important events of the month. On March 12, 2013, Belarus conducted a comprehensive check of the Armed Forces (source). Its most significant episode was the formation of a mechanized brigade at the expense of conscription of the military reserve. The brigade was formed on the basis of the 72nd integrated training centre. Particular attention was paid to the capabilities of the air force and air defence to cover the administrative and industrial areas and prevent acts of air terrorism. Separately, the state of arms and military equipment in military units and storage bases was checked.

The radar field was enlarged by the action of mobile low-altitude radar groups of radio technical troops.

The peculiarity of the March check was the involvement of women with military registration records in military training: there were about 50 people, mostly physicians.

It is necessary to note the high rate of conscription for military training: for March 21-22, about 1,400 of the reservists were drafted.

The developments within the month. On March 1, 2018 State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Stanislav Zas met with the Assistant to the President of Azerbaijan for work with law enforcement agencies and military issues Fuad Aleskerov. At the meeting they discussed topical issues of international security and the results of bilateral cooperation.

The Azerbaijani delegation visited the High Technologies Park and got acquainted with the developments of its residents «… which can be effectively used in Azerbaijan».

On March 1-2, a meeting of the CIS countries in Minsk on issues of multilateral military cooperation in the field of UAV usage was held. The participants got acquainted with the Russian experience of using unmanned aircraft during the war in Syria.

On March 1, 2018 Deputy Heads of Border Agencies of Belarus and Ukraine Ihar Butkevich and Vasily Servatyuk discussed the main directions of development of cooperation in the field of border security. A joint special border operation is planned.

On March 6, 2018 the meeting of the Chairman of the State Border Committee of Belarus Anatoly Lappo and Ambassador of Ukraine Igor Kizim was held. The topical issues of ensuring the functioning of the Belarusian-Ukrainian border, attracting international assistance for the organization of border security were discussed during the meeting.

On March 13, 2018 State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Stanislau Zas met with his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev. Common threats to security, cooperation between the security councils, and prospects for bilateral interaction were discussed. The meeting was a planned event. It is interesting to note that the Russian side provided much more details of the event. Thus, among the issues discussed there are: threats arising from the build-up of the military presence and the development of NATO’s military infrastructure near the borders of the two countries; prospects for bilateral military cooperation; maximum coordination of the positions of Minsk and Moscow on key issues of counter-terrorism at the main international platforms. In connection with the World Cup in Russia, the procedure for the entry of fans of third countries into Russia through the territory of Belarus was discussed as well.

On March 19-22, a company of servicemen from the 38th Airborne Assault Brigade participated in joint peacekeeping exercises with Russia. The event could be considered routine except two moments. Firstly, the peacekeeping operation in the fictional country “Domasiya” was trained. Secondly, in Ukraine, the exercises were perceived as preparations for the possible introduction of Belarusian and Russian troops to the Donbass under the guise of peacekeepers. In this case, we can talk about a coincidence: the exercises overlapped the background — discussion of a possible peacekeeping mission in the Ukrainian southeast.

On March 21, 2018 The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus announced the possibility of signing a truncated version of the Belarusian-Russian agreement on mutual recognition of visas and other permits.

On March 27, 2018 Aliaksandr Lukashenka, meeting the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Ihar Shunevich, instructed to stop the protest actions unauthorized by the authorities, regardless of the possible reaction to that from outside. Traditionally, the reason is supposedly concern for the safety of people.

On March 27-29 in the territory of four administrative districts of the Vitsebsk region and the Lasvida training ground tactical exercises with a paratrooper battalion of the 103rd Airborne Brigade were held. The troops trained searching, blocking and destroying subversive and reconnaissance groups of the conventional enemy and illegal armed formations. A special feature of the event was the handling of airborne and cargo landing on the parachute platform P-7 with the multi-dome system MKS-5-128R.

In the same days, command and staff exercises with missile forces and artillery were held. A feature of the exercises was the increase in survivability of command posts and subunits under conditions of special operations forces.

On March 28, 2018 the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus reported that 734 Belarusian citizens and stateless persons living in Belarus were involved in mercenary activities. It is reported that 188 of them took part in hostilities in the territory of Ukraine. In 2017, 10 criminal cases were instituted on the basis of materials of the law enforcement agency, 7 Belarusians were brought to criminal responsibility. 22 citizens of third countries who lived in Belarus and participated in the war in the Donbass were found. The materials for criminal prosecution in relation to 5 citizens of Belarus suspected of mercenarism and intending to return to their homeland in the near future, have been collected., 90 participants in hostilities were put on the special list at border control points. With regard to the order of 40 people who fought in the ranks of Ukrainian volunteer formations, criminal cases have been opened on various articles of the Criminal Code for crimes allegedly committed by them on the territory of Belarus.

Also the law enforcement agency reported about 260 individuals who are prone to extremism. As far as we can judge, the overwhelming majority of them are anarchists and football fans who are under pressure from the authorities over the past three years. More than 20 crimes, stipulated by Article 130 of the Criminal Code (inciting racial, national or religious hatred or discord) have been reported.

Within a month, mechanized units trained the conduct of military operations (both defensive and offensive) in the urbanized area. In this case, the defence used the experience of war in Syria (the so-called Syrian shaft — a high earthen embankment for sheltering tanks with ruptures in it for firing).

The readiness of military units to operate in conditions of blockade and to repel an attack of saboteurs was trained as well.

During March, a number of measures to prepare the territorial defence system were taken. There were training sessions with staffs:

— the united Slonim-Zelva region of territorial defence (source);

— in Hrodna with officials and representatives of the military and law enforcement agencies of the city of Hrodna and the Grodno region on the issues of making managerial decisions and assigning tasks to the territorial defence forces;

— in Luninets district with the participation of representatives of government bodies, law enforcement agencies as well as key enterprises (Beltelecom, power grid, housing and communal services, etc.) (source).

Training of personnel for the system of territorial defence continued. At the Military Academy of Belarus on March 12-16, the relevant courses with the chairmen of district / city executive committees were organized. In the course of the training sessions, the formation of headquarters for territorial defence and units of territorial troops was discussed.

In March, trainings with the heads of the territorial defence bodies of the Vitsebsk region were held. The event was attended by civil servants, military commissars and representatives of law enforcement agencies.

Conclusions. The number of people conscripted from the reserve for military service in the course of a comprehensive check is not known precisely. It is reported that “about/over/up to 2 thousand people liable for military service” took part in the event. However, judging by the list of formed units and combat training activities with the participation of those called from the reserve, the actual number of drafted at the training camps is much larger.

The format of air force and air defence participation in the comprehensive check became indicative: the counteraction to massive air strikes was not trained. It is obvious that the likely scenario of the war in the representation of the Belarusian leadership is the invasion of a ground group by the number to the division with limited usage or only the threat of the enemy to use the means of air attack. This format implies preparation for a local conflict, i.e. Limited by the political goals and scale of the war between two neighbouring states, which covers a limited geographical area and mainly affects the interests of only the opposing sides (territorial, political, economic and others).

Checking the combat readiness of the Armed Forces revealed a split between the army and a significant part of society. The call for military training is often perceived as a meaningless exercise. The facts of evasion from it on fictitious or fabricated grounds became massive, especially in the capital. A year ago such a scale of the problem was not observed. This is the result of the separation of the military from the society. The Belarusian army basically remains the bearer of the tradition and administrative philosophy of the army of the USSR, which existed in another historical epoch. The Belarusian society is radically different from the Soviet one. As a result, a significant part of the citizens of Belarus do not perceive the army as an important and authoritative social institution. People are often not ready to sacrifice their own interests for the sake of what they do not understand and do not perceive as necessary.

The situation is aggravated by the inefficiency of the information work of the Ministry of Defence for many years. And now we are seeing the consequences of this inefficiency.

It requires a serious adaptation of the army to the expectations of society. The current leaders of the Ministry of Defence yet demonstrate neither an understanding of the problem nor the potential for correcting the situation.

Throughout 2017, the Belarusian-Ukrainian security relations tended to deteriorate. The readiness to develop pragmatic cooperation in this area signals that neither Belarus nor Ukraine intend to complicate bilateral relations. But there is no reason to expect a close interstate partnership. Minsk and Kiev will interact primarily at the interagency level, only when it is in the interests of both parties and does not create for them additional and significant problems with third countries.

Official Minsk continues the policy of balancing and simultaneously «trading» security issues with all sides of the current crisis. The Belarusian authorities can not avoid discussing a number of topical security problems for Russia (for example, attitudes toward strengthening the eastern flank of NATO). Not wishing to provide additional arguments for those in the West who consider Belarus completely dependent on Moscow, the Belarusian side often limits information on Belarusian-Russian security relations.

It is obvious that after the unilateral withdrawal of Russia from the transparency regime of the Belarusian-Russian border, the parties can not agree on a number of fundamental questions regarding the movement of third-country nationals. Probably, in the current situation, these contradictions are insurmountable. This means that Russia made a fundamental decision to create a full-fledged protection of the border with our country. It is worth recalling that during January 2018 Lukashenka addressed this issue three times. At the same time, he actually withdrew from solving the problem, shifting it to branch departments.

The order to the Ministry of Internal Affairs to prevent unauthorized actions by the authorities has nothing to do with concern for public security. This is a manifestation of the readiness of the regime to return to repressive practices. Obviously, the Belarusian authorities estimate the possibility of internal destabilization of the situation in the country as a real threat. Lukashenka practically does not distinguish between internal and external threats to security: for him, internal threats are very often a manifestation of the external ones. The opposition to domestic political challenges can be perceived by the Belarusian leader as a defence against a veiled external aggression.

Speaking about the results of counteraction to mercenarism, it is worth noting the difference between the number of reported participants in hostilities and the number of criminal cases initiated. At the same time nothing is reported about the measures for the international search for mercenaries. The Belarusian authorities are aiming not to bring to justice the participants of military operations (mercenaries), but to prevent their return to Belarus and to force those already returned to leave the country under threat of criminal prosecution.

Note that the bulk of measures in the field of territorial defence is associated with the preparation of command and control system for it. This may be a consequence of the higher cost of organizing the training of territorial troops or/and the unsatisfactory level of preparedness of the existing territorial defence management system.

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