Situation in the field of national security and defence of Belarus (March 2019)

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The most important events of the month. On March 4-6, consultations of the Ministries of Defence of Belarus and Poland took place in Warsaw. During the event the parties discussed bilateral military cooperation and the situation in the field of international and regional security.

On March 5, 2019 Aliaksandr Lukashenka spoke in favour of improving relations with NATO, motivating this by the fact that three of the five neighbouring states are already members of the Alliance, and Ukraine seeks to join it. The Belarusian authorities would like to avoid an arms race and new dividing lines in the region, as well as to build relations with NATO that would eventually strengthen the security of Belarus.

On March 28, 2019 a multilateral meeting of representatives of the general staffs of the armies of Belarus, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine took place in Warsaw. The event was dedicated to building confidence and security in the region.

The developments within the month. On March 1, 2019 Lukashenka confirmed that the MLRS “Polonaise” was created with Chinese technological and financial support.

On the same day, a meeting of the delegations of the State Border Committee of Belarus and the State Border Service of Ukraine took place. The parties reviewed the prospects for cooperation of border agencies, discussed the procedure for cooperation in the conduct of demarcation work on a joint part of the border, including in the exclusion zone of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The positive result of conducting joint border operations on a regular basis was noted. The parties signed plans for engineering and technical equipment of the border, a joint special border operation “Palessie-2019” and a document on the interaction of border commissioners of Belarus and Ukraine during the demarcation work at the state border.

On March 5, 2019 Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent met with First Deputy Minister of the Interior of Belarus Ivan Padhursky in Minsk. Belarus declared its readiness to strengthen and develop cooperation with US law enforcement agencies in all areas of mutual interest. The parties discussed a wide range of issues on the international agenda relating to ensuring security and confronting global challenges and threats.

Further, Deputy Prime Minister Ihar Piatryshenka said that Belarus is continuing to work on the appointment of its representative as Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

Preparations for the traditional Belarusian-Russian exercises “Union Shield-2019”, which will be held in Russia, are continuing. On March 12-14, the Belarusian-Russian command-staff training on working out the interaction of military authorities, formations and military units in the framework of the regional grouping of troops (RGT) was carried out jointly, as well as improving the RGT control system.

On March 14, 2019 Russian Ambassador to Belarus Mikhail Babich said that Belarus had not completed the internal procedures for approving the agreement on the mutual recognition of visas between Belarus and Russia, agreed by the parties in November 2018.

On the same day, the heads of the staffs of the CIS armies agreed on the development of a unified air defence system until 2025 and its adaptation to the solution of aerospace defence tasks, as well as joint activities for 2020. The CIS countries have agreed to cooperate in the field of usage of unmanned aircraft and countering UAVs, training of military personnel, topographic support, etc. Sergey Lebedev, Chairman of the CIS Executive Committee, addressed the military leaders. His speech was performed in the best traditions of Russian anti-Western propaganda.

On March 18, 2019, the Information Security Concept of Belarus was approved. The document was approved by a resolution of the Security Council, and not by the government or presidential decree, as is usually the case. The concept has a clear bias in favour of information technology issues (cybersecurity) to the detriment of information and psychological issues. In general, it seems that the document is opportunistic in nature, its format is associated with internal bureaucratic logic more than with real problems in the field of information security of the country. There is a high probability that the concept will remain non-performing and just declarative document.

On March 18-19, experts from Spain held a seminar on anti-terrorism strategies, tactics and technology with the aim of transferring the accumulated experience in countering terrorism to Belarusian law enforcement officers in Minsk.

On March 18-22, under the direction of the Chief of the General Staff of the Army of Belarus, Major-General Aleh Belakoneu, a regular headquarters training session of the Joint Command of the Belarussian State Forces of Belarus and Russia took place. Within the framework of the event the United Command was formed. The training involved the headquarters of the territorial defence zones of all regions and Minsk as well as the operational groups of other security agencies of Belarus. A complete cycle of issues from the reports of conclusions of the assessment of the military-political and strategic situation to making decisions and setting tasks, developing forms and methods of conducting military actions had been trained.

On March 20, 2019 during the meeting of the Ambassador of Belarus to Russia Uladzimir Siamashka with the Director General of the Russian corporation for space activities Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin, they discussed the possibility of expanding the current Russian-Belarusian orbital group of spacecraft for remote sensing of the Earth; prospects for the implementation of interstate space programs and draft design of the Belarusian-Russian satellite of highly detailed remote sensing of the Earth, launched in 2018.

On March 28, 2019, making personnel changes in the system of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Lukashenka noted that he considers the work of the police insufficiently effective. In particular, the ministry inappropriately fulfils his order to restore order in agriculture. The Ministry of Internal Affairs should study how much equipment is available to farmers and the degree of its readiness for field work. The newly appointed police officials were tasked to establish order in all areas, including ones, not directly related to the maintenance of law and order.

On March 30-31, the JSC “AGAT — management systems” held information security competitions “AgatCTF-2019”, in which teams of leading Belarusian universities, training personnel in the field of IT-technologies, took part. The event was organized by the State Military Industrial Committee of Belarus (SMIC). The management of the department considers the competition as a display of potential personnel for work in Belarusian military-industrial complex.

Competitors had to maintain the performance of their own services and find vulnerabilities in the services of rivals. It is stated that the competitions are held within the framework of the state policy in the field of information security with the aim of training and raising the level of skills in the IT.

It also became known that on the basis of “AGAT”, a structure designed to prevent cyber threats and respond to hacker attacks that “affect the interests of society and the country” was created. In particular, its specialists are engaged in testing computer systems, checking software for errors and vulnerabilities, developing specialized software to counter hacker attacks, preforming analytical and forensic work. In particular, a matrix of cyber threats, that may be actual for Belarus, is being created. They also create a system to protect customer information so that the information does not leave Belarus.

In March, the prosecution authorities held a number of measures to strengthen the rule of law in the army:

— An interdepartmental meeting under the chairmanship of the Minsk region prosecutor Aleh Laurukhin on the state of law and order in military units deployed in the region in 2018 was held. In addition to prosecutors, the meeting was attended by representatives of the military department, military counterintelligence of the State Security Committee, the Barysau military commandant’s office, commanders of military units deployed in the territory of the Minsk region. The issues of the state of law and order in military units; measures taken to prevent and prevent non-statutory relations and other crimes; conducting pre-investigation checks; the interaction of prosecutors with the command of military units were discussed;

— A meeting of prosecutors with military personnel of the 116th ground attack air base in Lida was held. The responsibility for military crimes, violation of the statute, non-compliance with the requirements of the legislation on the procedure of military service was explained to the soldiers.

In March, the US inspection team visited the 336th rocket artillery brigade under the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. The armament of one of the brigade divisions is equipped with the heavy MLRS “Polonaise”.

A joint tactical exercise of the Russian airborne troops and the Special Operations Forces of the Belarusian army of a battalion scale was held on the territory of Russia. Formally, it was devoted to the performance of peacekeeping functions. However, in general, the tasks trained corresponded to those that have to be carried out in the framework of hostilities (adherence to the movement of people and vehicles, engineering intelligence, actions at observation posts, patrolling, repelling attacks on their own objects and patrols, etc.)

MIA continues to report on the results of performance in 2018. 13 criminal cases for mercenarism were initiated against 11 people, 10 of whom were arrested. MIA does not report on the countries in which these people fought. 306 crimes of an extremist nature were identified, for which 254 perpetrators were identified. The pressure of the Ministry of Internal Affairs on the representatives of youth subcultures traditionally continues.

During March, there were the discussions on the prospects for changing the grounds for a deferment from military service in order to reduce the number of people who receive it. The official reason is the lack of recruits due to the unfavourable demographic situation. Currently, there are 47 grounds for granting a deferment from military service. It is also planned to revise the procedures for medical examination of the potential conscripts.

Conclusions. The activity of the Ministry of Defence of Belarus on the external track is connected with the need to normalize military-political relations with Ukraine and Lithuania, as well as to establish the official Minsk as an independent actor in matters of regional security. In the West and in Ukraine there is an opinion that Belarus critically depends on Russia in the field of security and that the Belarusian military and law enforcement agencies are almost controlled by Moscow.

The task of imparting positive dynamics to military-political relations with Ukraine and Lithuania is not easy. Ukraine, as a country at war with Russia, is suspicious of Minsk, which does not tire of repeating the strategic nature of the Belarus-Russia alliance. In Lithuania, the problematic issues of relations with Belarus are part of the domestic political agenda. The Lithuanian military leadership is forced to take this into account. It seems that without improvement of the Belarusian-Lithuanian political relations (which is not visible) it will be extremely difficult to resolve issues in the military-political field. At best, we can talk about averting a crisis in this area: in connection with the start of work of the Belarusian NPP, control over the airspace around the plant will be tightened. Given the proximity of the facility to the border with Lithuania in the event of a violation of the airspace of Belarus, the intruder will be destroyed by air defence forces deployed to protect the Belarusian NPP, without additional warnings. There is a danger that some third force, interested in complicating the Belarusian-Lithuanian relations, may try to organize a provocation in violation of the restricted area in the air around the nuclear power plant.

Belarusian authorities are distinguished by isolation from the realities of foreign policy. Lukashenka’s statements about the need to avoid an arms race and new dividing lines in Eastern Europe were late by at least 5 years: the region already has an arms race and new dividing lines that look like a front line in the Donbas. The main actors tend to consider the situation in the “either with us or against us” style. In this regard, Minsk’s initiatives such as “integration of integrations”, “Helsinki-2”, “regional security donor” are inadequate for the current situation. Confrontation in the region is the norm for at least the next 10 years. And the best way to not drawn into someone else’s conflict is not to make beautiful statements, but to have big “fists”.

Chinese origin of “Polonaise” is not a secret. The prospects of the Belarusian-Chinese military-technical cooperation are really interesting. Back in 2017, the integration of a Chinese-made M20 ballistic missile into “Polonaise” weapons system was expected. An agreement of support in upgrading / building missiles for the national anti-aircraft missile system by the PRC was reached. However, so far nothing is known about the development of these projects. Obviously, not only technical or financial difficulties are the reason. It is possible that Beijing decided not to force the development of military-technical cooperation with Minsk. This may be due both to the fear of obtaining a competitor for the Chinese military industrial complex and the negative reaction of Russia to the invasion of the region, which Moscow continues to consider a zone of its privileged interests. International relations are largely symbols and rituals. In this regard, the format of the representation of China in the military parade on July 3 will be indicative.

Currently, the appointment of a representative of Belarus to the CSTO Secretary General is blocked by Armenia, which insists on its right to nominate a representative for this post. Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have already agreed on the candidature of the Belarusian representative. In Yerevan, they refuse to even accept him. For Armenia, the preservation of the post of CSTO head is a domestic political issue. The Armenian authorities could retreat without loss of face only at the request or under pressure from Russia. Meanwhile, Moscow demonstratively withdrew from the altercations between Minsk and Yerevan around the post of the CSTO Secretary General. Even against the background of the fact, that the Belarus was counting on effective Russian support in this matter. The situation around the CSTO means that for Russia itself this organization is not of critical importance, but is only one of the instruments for maintaining influence in the post-Soviet space.

Problems in the bilateral political relations between Minsk and Moscow do not yet have a visible impact on bilateral cooperation in the military sphere. However, this can not last long. Minsk voiced the position that the development of so-called “Union State” and the EAEU is possible only while maintaining the sovereignty of the country, taking into account its national interests. At the same time, the principle of consensus in making decisions on the development of integration processes should be maintained. The format and scale of the participation of the Belarus in the “Union Shield-2019” will be indicative here. It is necessary to recall that “Union Shield-2011” were the largest exercises of the series for Belarus. At that time, about 5,000 troops of the Belarusian army were deployed in Russia.

For more than two years, the issue of Moscow’s unilateral deployment of border controls on the border with Belarus was a serious irritant to bilateral relations and personally to Aliaksandr Lukashenka. The delay in signing the agreement with Russia on the mutual recognition of visas from Belarus indicates the absence of provisions that are essential for Minsk in the document. Consequently, reducing the transparency of the border between the two countries remains a point of tension in bilateral relations.

The anti-Western rhetoric of the CIS Executive Committee Chairman Mr. Lebedev at the meeting of the leaders of the General Staffs of the CIS armies was inappropriate. With the exception of Russia, other Commonwealth states seek to develop relations with the EU and the United States. Speech by the official from the CIS, which is contrary to the policies of member-states, in fact, undermines the unity of the organization. In general, such demarches occur not for the first time and show that certain circles in Russia are not inclined to reckon with the interests and positions of their formal partners in the post-Soviet space, considering the interstate formations of the CIS countries as a continuation of the Russian power institutions.

The capabilities of Belarus on missile defence are very limited. At present, the “Protivnik-G” radar and, possibly, the “Tor” air defence missile system, purchased in Russia, can be integrated into a hypothetical missile defence system of the CIS. There is still the issue of the fate and suitability for operation of the S-300V air defence missile systems, also having certain anti-missile capabilities, which were previously in service with the 147th anti-aircraft missile brigade.

It should be noted that the State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Stanislau Zas denies the connection between the adoption of the information security concept and the dominance of the Russian media product in the national information field. In Belarus, denial is often means the assertion. Statements by Belarusian officials about the need to increase the share of national information content mean an intention to replace the Russian content. At least in terms of public and political information on state-owned channels, which in essence are the main sources of the Russian political media products.

The expansion of contacts of the Belarusian law enforcement agencies with their Western counterparts should be welcomed despite the specifics of the political regime in Belarus. International contacts allow not only to get acquainted with the new experience, but also broaden the horizons of the heads of the Belarusian law enforcement agencies. This helps to reduce the level of psychological dependence of the Belarusian security forces on colleagues from the east.

The current Belarusian satellite of Earth remote sensing turned out to be a commercially successful project. Although the guaranteed period of its operation has expired, the device, as far as is known, continues to function normally. The Belarus has repeatedly stated its intention to launch a technically more advanced satellite. Obviously, this issue remains quite relevant.

The endowment of the Ministry of Internal Affairs with the functions of controlling the efficiency of the use of property by agricultural organizations means Lukashenka’s distrust of the government system created by him. An attempt to replace civilian officials with police officers seems unjustified. The Ministry of Internal Affairs will face a situation where the implementation of unusual control functions will be possible only at the expense of weakening law enforcement. The agency will try to get rid of the new burden, using the factor of elections and external instability as an argument to concentrate on the immediate law enforcement function. It is highly likely that this will be done by promoting the imaginary threat to the regime from its political opponents or representatives of youth subcultures (football fans, antifa, etc.).

Obviously, first of all, the “AGAT” cyber security division will be engaged in protecting the information of the authorities, military-industrial complex enterprises, as well as other enterprises whose stable operation is important for ensuring the security of the state. It is worth recalling that earlier SMIC identified the creation of cyber-weapons as one of its development priorities.

Official Minsk demonstrates its readiness to establish interaction with the United States in a number of areas, including security – the most important one for American policy in Eastern Europe. Taking into account the upcoming Belarusian-Russian exercises “Union Shield-2019” and ambiguous relations with the Kremlin, the Belarusian authorities are interested in demonstrating their ability to pursue an independent security policy. Which may be different from the Russian on a number of issues. But the conditional red lines outlined by the Kremlin for the post-Soviet countries will not be crossed.

Repressions against youth subcultures because of their alleged tendency to extremism are caused not so much by the real danger of these communities as by bureaucratic logic, when extra/redundant functions or tasks are invented to preserve/expand structures. In this case, the Interior Ministry speculates on the fears of the country’s top political leadership, frightened by the 2014 Ukrainian revolution. In Belarus, it is widely believed that football fans have become the striking force of Maidan. Taking into account the fact that youth subcultures are not controlled by the state (in contrast to the “cossacks” and other “orthodox-patriotic” clubs), they become enemies of the government just because of their existence, and not because of their activity or political position. Repressive actions of the authorities just radicalize and politicize these communities and push them onto the path of opposition to the state.

Defers in military service are indeed widely available in Belarus. Thus, during the autumn draft in the Vitsebsk region in 2018, more than half of 8445 recruits were deferred: 78.6% for continuing education, 14.7% for health reasons, 5.7% for family reasons, and 1% for others reasons. The rest were sent for medical examination. As a result, 39.7% were considered fit for military service, 16.8% were temporarily unfit, 41.4% were unfit for military service in peacetime, and 2.1% were completely unfit for military service and excluded from military registration. More than 1,500 people, i.e. less than 20% of recruits, were sent for military service. For comparison, in Finland about 70% of men do military service. During the Cold War this number was 95%.

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