The most important events of the month. On May 5, 2020 Aliaksandr Lukashenka visited the testing ground of the Academy of Sciences of Belarus. There he got acquainted with Belarusian developments in the field of electric transport and unmanned vehicles. Among other things, he was shown a new version of the “Burevestnik” UAV. As far as one can judge, the mass of the device has increased, the control system has been improved, the drone has received a new engine and chassis. It is worth recalling that “Burevestnik” has been developed for a long time in the interests of the Ministry of Emergencies of Belarus. However, to date, as far as we know, the cycle of the UAV’s tests is not completed.
On May 22, 2020 Lukashenka visited the experimental test site of OKB TSP. There he was presented with promising models of missile weapons as well as options for upgrading existing weapons.
For the first time, it is officially recognized that the country has established the assembly (and not its own production) of Chinese missiles. While Belarusian missiles with a range of 300 km are being developed. However, there are problems in this part:
— China actually refused to provide technological support. Obviously, because of the reluctance to create a competitor in the arms market. Lukashenka stated that he intends to discuss this issue with Xi Jinping.
— Russia refuses to provide its test sites for the Belarus. Testing options in China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia are being considered.
Lukashenka demanded to eliminate technological dependence on the PRC in missile weapons.
Chairman of the State Military-Industrial Committee (SMIC) Raman Halouchanka said that the cost of developing the missile industry has already paid off many times by exporting these weapons. First of all, we can talk about the supply of MLRS “Polonaise” to Azerbaijan.
The developers announced plans to present the first sample of a domestic missile with the range of 300 km by September. Currently, the challenge is the domestic production of imported expensive components and assemblies: warheads, explosives, fuel. So far, in these areas, the national defence industry is at the initial stage of work.
The developments within the month. On May 6, 2020 Belarus received the next batch of modernized T-72B3 tanks in the amount of five units. The modernization was carried out by the Russian corporation Uralvagonzavod.
Although the Chinese coronavirus pandemic affected the intensity of security events, it did not become an obstacle to official ceremonies with Lukashenka and with the forced participation in these events of budgetary institutions employees. So, the requirements for the number of the representatives, who were to be present at the military parade on May 9, were brought to the central offices of the ministries in Minsk. Similar requirements were sent to the capital’s universities. Orders were sent to colleges in the Minsk region on how many employees (preferably with family members) they should send to Minsk to attend the parade.
On May 12, 2020, the head of the Department of International Military Cooperation of the Ministry of Defence of Belarus, Major General Aleh Voinau and the head of the Main Directorate of International Military Cooperation of the Ministry of Defence of Uzbekistan, Colonel Dilshot Khasanov held telephone conversation. Topical issues of bilateral military cooperation were discussed.
On May 14, 2020, the Belarusian Defence Minister Viktar Khrenin and his Chinese colleagues Wei Fenghe held a telephone conversation. The parties discussed issues of combating Chinese coronavirus pandemic in two countries and cooperation of defence departments in this area. The PRC Minister of Defence emphasized the importance and significance of the prospects for bilateral military cooperation and the willingness of China to develop cooperation with Belarusian colleagues on issues of mutual interest.
On May 15, 2020 CSTO Secretary General Stanislau Zas made a number of statements. Thus, he emphasized that in order to achieve its goals, the Organization gives priority to political rather than military instruments. There is no immediate threat of a military conflict between the CSTO and NATO, and no reason for this is foreseen. All political, diplomatic and military components of the CSTO are aimed exclusively at ensuring collective security, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Organization’s member states.
On May 16-23, tactical exercises with missile forces, which were comprehensive and conducted against a single operational background, were held. The ability of commanders to manage units in a complex rapidly changing environment has been tested.
The troops trained:
— moving units in a combined way;
— camouflage, protection and defence of concentration places;
— occupation of starting positions, carrying out combat alert, missile strikes with a change in starting positions.
In May the regime started seriously using repression against its opponents. Which was not a surprise in connection with the upcoming presidential election. But this was expected closer to election day. On May 29, 2020, in Hrodna, during the event of collecting signatures for nominating candidates for the presidency of Belarus, a popular video blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski was detained as a result of a provocation.
On the same day, Lukashenka accused some participants of the presidential race of lying and using foreign financing, transparently hinting at Russia, and also announced that he had compromising materials on potential competitors.
Crimes in the field of high technologies are becoming increasingly relevant for Belarus. In January-April of this year, more than 3 thousand such crimes were registered. About a third of them are embezzlement from citizens’ accounts using the details of bank payment cards obtained by social engineering or using fraudulent Internet resources.
In May, the conclusion of the first contract for the supply of oil from the United States to Belarus was announced. Belarusian authorities especially emphasize that this happened due to the visit of the US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to Minsk on Ferbruary 1, 2020 and his meeting with Aliaksandr Lukashenka. Official Minsk claims that the purchase of American oil is part of a strategy to diversify sources of hydrocarbon supplies to Belarus and cooperation with the United States in the oil sector is an essential element of Belarus’ energy security.
The continuation of work on the draft Code of Administrative Offenses and the Procedurally Executive Code of Administrative Offenses is reported. It is planned to reduce the number of administrative offenses, and the bias should be done not for punitive measures, but for prevention. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry is already changing its approach to responding to administrative misconduct: in January-April of the current year, the number of prosecutions was reduced by 57%.
Conclusions. May visits of Lukashenka to the test site of the Academy of Sciences of Belarus and the experimental test site of OKB TSP company are campaign events of the Belarusian ruler. They are called to demonstrate the successes of his current cadence and touch on future breakthroughs. For the first time, Lukashenka starts the election campaign without any clear message to the voter. An attempt to emphasize some unnamed external threats to the country’s independence, which only Lukashenko can restrain, does not find a response in society. There are no economic achievements. The reaction of the regime to the COVID-19 pandemic causes public discontent. The only things Lukashenka can do are showing the missiles and promising the electric cars.
Moscow is interested in maintaining maximum dependence of Belarus in the defence sector. Especially in such a strategically important component as rocket science. This is a strategy that has been traced for at least the past 15 years. One should not expect a change in the Russia’s position.
The initiator of the telephone talks between the defence ministers of Belarus and China was, as far as we can tell, the Chinese side: earlier, during April-May, Wei Fenghe held similar telephone conversations with the heads of several defence departments of the PRC partner countries. From the reports of the press services of the defence departments of Belarus and China, we can conclude that the Chinese side has increased interest in interacting with our country.
With increasing criticism of China in the West about responding to the coronavirus pandemic and escalating tensions with Washington, the Beijing leadership is seeking political support in the world. Including through the interaction of defence departments. It is unknown, what the Chinese are ready to offer Minsk besides the pathos political rhetoric. Moreover, the international authority of Belarus is insignificant, and the influence is near zero.
Despite the anti-Western rhetoric of Russian representatives and officials, the CSTO should not be regarded as a new Warsaw Pact. Other participating countries have different views on relations with NATO from the Russian one, and Moscow, being politically “the first among equals,” cannot do anything with this.
The detention of Siarhei Tsikhanouski in Hrodna is a planned political action initiated at the highest level. It was the result of the lack of public support that Lukashenka was counting on. The statement about the foreign support of the activities of individual participants in the presidential campaign is intended to justify the use of repression in the eyes of the West. Belarusian authorities hope to play on Brussels’ and Washington’s fears of strengthening Russian influence in Belarus (we can already state the failure of this tactic of the Belarusian regime). Given the economic situation and the lack of large-scale external support, the suppression of any political activity and repression is the only tool to maintain control over the country for the regime in the foreseeable future. Lukashenka was preparing for this almost from the middle of last year. Belarus Security Blog has already written about these steps of the Belarusian ruler.
Speaking about the supply of oil from the USA to Belarus, one should pay attention to the following points.
Firstly, this is a trial supply, designed, inter alia, to calculate the cost of expenses associated with the transportation and transshipment of oil. This in particular is evidenced by the Belarus’ rejection of the “virtual reverse” scheme, which would help to reduce the logistics costs. Secondly, the issue of oil exports from the USA to Eastern Europe was a common one during Mike Pompeo’s visit of the region. But only Belarus entered into a specific contract, which can be seen as a gesture towards the head of the US State Department personally. This can also be an attempt to interest the official Washington, which pays great attention to opening new markets for American products, including for hydrocarbons.
One-time contracts for relatively small quantities of oil are unlikely to interest the United States. The import of American oil at commercial prices, taking into account transportation costs, is doubtful from the economic point of view in comparison with the oil import from Russia by pipeline.
The financial situation of official Minsk does not allow to ensure energy security by overpaying for the products of non-Russian suppliers. At least on a large scale. This is evidenced by the fact that Russian companies are still the dominant suppliers of oil to Belarus.
Obviously, the purchase of oil in the United States is primarily of political importance for the Belarusian authorities: to arouse Washington’s temporary interest in Belarus as a promising market and support it until the fall of this year. The purpose is to curb the return of US sanctions as punishment for political repression during the presidential election campaign in Belarus. Given the tradition of joint actions by the United States and the European Union, restraining the return of US sanctions is highly likely to help restrain the restoration of European sanctions against official Minsk. After the end of the election campaign, the Belarusian authorities expect that the need for repressive tools will sharply decrease. The threat of Western sanctions will disappear. Along with this, the need to bear additional costs for the purchase of oil in the United States will disappear as well. Thus, we can state an attempt to manipulate Washington by creating a false hope that Belarus will become a significant consumer of American hydrocarbons.
At the same time, the fact that American oil will be supplied will be used by the Belarusian regime to improve its negotiating position with Moscow. Moreover, primarily in the political sphere (the threat of expanding American influence in the region).
Crisis phenomena in the country’s economy and the decrease of the financial capabilities of the state limit the possibility of “buying” the electorate’s loyalty in the pre-election period. Therefore, the Belarusian authorities are trying to remove/reduce irritants for large groups of the population. But only in that part which does not affect the interests of the political regime existing in Belarus. The regime was forced to implement changes in the legislation on administrative offenses and to promote new approaches of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in this area. But in the situation of “manual” control of the country, a return to previous tough approach can be quick.