Situation in the field of national security and defence of Belarus (November 2017)


The most important events of the month. The main event of the month was the Belarusian State Security Committee’s (SSC) announcing the detention of the Ukrainian citizen Pavel Sharoiko on charges of espionage. The detention took place on October 25, 2017. Pavel Sharoiko is charged with leading a network of agents (source). Initially, the authorities of Belarus and Ukraine reached an agreement not to publish a spy story, as this could damage the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. The fate of Pavel Sharoiko was discussed during a meeting between Aliaksandr Lukashenka and Petro Poroshenko in Abu Dhabi on November 2, 2017. The event became public only after the relevant statements in Kyiv on November 17, 2017.

Ukraine was forced to break the silence about the detention of Pavel Sharoiko after the information about the incident began to be spread in Minsk: Kyiv feared that the Belarusian authorities were playing their own game. The fact that the actions of Ukraine were a surprise for the official Minsk is evidenced by the fact of an emergency briefing by the SSC of Belarus on November 20, 2017. Perhaps, the first one in modern history. The Belarusian special service was forced to disclose certain circumstances of espionage. Which had not happened before; at least during the investigation.

The developments within the month. Belarusian Defence Minister Andrei Raukou started his November working period with a visit to Beijing. During his talks with the Minister of Defence of China, Chiang Wanquan, the whole range of bilateral military cooperation for the near and medium term was discussed.

Although the Belarusian-Russian exercises “West-2017” have long ended, their political consequences continue to be felt. November 7, 2017 US representative to NATO said he was unhappy with the level of transparency of the exercise and the violation of the standards of the Vienna Document.

On November 10, 2017 the Federal Security Service of Russia publicly confirmed the actual ban on the third-country nationals’ entering Russia through the Belarusian-Russian border on land. The reason was inconsistency between Russia and Belarus of the entry, exit and stay of third-country nationals in their territories. The real reason for the actions of the Russian side is an attempt to force the official Minsk to create a single visa space. Which in practice will mean the refusal of Belarus from the sovereign right to independently determine the order of entry and stay of foreigners on Belarusian territory. Official Minsk refrains from public comments. At the same time, Belarus is taking certain steps to establish control on the Belarusian-Russian border from its side.

On the same day, the traditional joint collegium of the defence ministries of Belarus and Russia was held. Russia has traditionally emphasized the activity of NATO. It declared the readiness to take steps to respond. Obviously, implying that the Belarusian army should join the Russian partners. At the same time, the Belarusian official source, covering the joint collegium, stated about “… the irreversibility of the process of military integration of the two states”. The Defence Minister of Belarus preferred to avoid accusation third forces, focusing on the positive outcome of the Belarusian-Russian defence cooperation. In general, after a number of information provocations by the Russian side during the joint exercises “West-2017” and the demonstrative refusal of the military-political leaders of Russia from the traditional visit to Belarus in such cases, the joint collegium of the ministries of defence of the two countries was held rather in a positive atmosphere.

On November 12-16, representatives of the Belarusian military industrial complex visited Dubai (United Arab Emirates), where they participated in the international aerospace exhibition Dubai Airshow-2017. The importance of the event for Belarus is evidenced by the fact that the Belarusian delegation was headed by the Chairman of the State Military-Industrial Committee Ahel Dzvihalyou. Within the framework of the exhibition he held a series of meetings with the leaders of the Armed Forces of the United Arab Emirates, as well as with heads of military departments and defence organizations of other states on issues of bilateral military-technical cooperation.

On November 11, 2017 a meeting of heads of border agencies of Belarus and Ukraine took place in Kyiv. The parties ascertained the appropriate level of border security on the common border. The joint work on attracting international technical assistance for the arrangement of the Belarusian-Ukrainian border was discussed.

On November 16, 2017 Belarus established the Interdepartmental Commission on Security in the Information Sphere under the Security Council. It will be a permanently functioning collegial body coordinating the work of state institutions in this sphere. The commission will analyse the current situation in the information environment (identification of internal and external risks, challenges, security threats) and form relevant national interests.

On November 16-17, 2017, the sixth session of the Joint Belarusian-Cuban Commission for Military-Technical Cooperation was held in Havana. Representatives of enterprises of the military industrial complex of Belarus took part in the meeting, where long-term cooperation projects were discussed. The Belarusian side visited the military industry enterprises of Cuba.

On November 20, 2017 Aliaksandr Lukashenka received the Chairman of the Georgian Parliament Irakli Kobakhidze. The Belarusian leader noted Tbilisi’s considerable merit in establishing relations of the official Minsk with the West and the United States in particular. He invited the Georgian parliamentarians to get acquainted with the products of the Belarusian military-industrial complex.

On the same day President Lukashenka made new appointments in the structure of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Defence. Addressing the new head of the Minsk militia, Lukashenka demanded tough actions to curb riots and attempts to destabilize the situation. Referring to the situation in the army, he called the death of the ordinary military serviceman Aliaksandr Korzhych a catastrophe. At the same time, Lukashenka mentioned the work with the personnel in the Ministry of Internal Affairs (obviously, referring to the Internal Troops (MIA IT) as an example for the Ministry of Defence. The Belarusian leader accused the Minister of Defence Andrei Raukou of being rigid and having weakened control over the situation in the army.

On November 22, 2017 State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Stanislau Zas took part in a meeting of secretaries of security councils of the CIS countries. The situation in Afghanistan and the fighting radical religious trends in the CIS countries were discussed. For the first time, the meeting focused on joint actions to prevent the threat (elimination of consequences) of epidemics in the CIS countries.

On the same day, a meeting of the Council of Heads of CIS member-states’ Financial Intelligence Units was held. Issues of combating the legalization of criminal proceeds and financing of terrorism, the regulation of electronic payment systems to prevent their use for money laundering and financing of terrorism, as well as the fight against the financing of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction were discussed.

On November 23, 2017 Interior Minister Ihar Shunevich met President Lukashenka and made a report. The level of crime in the country continues to decline. Thus, in January-October, more than 184,000 claims and reports on crimes were received by the internal affairs bodies, which is 11.3% less than in the same period last year. At the same time, there is an increase in identified corruption and economic crime. For 10 months of 2017, about 6 thousand such crimes were registered, which is 3.5% higher than in the same period last year. The sphere of procurement at the expense of budgetary funds, as well as funds of enterprises with a share of state property is most criminalized. A serious impact on the criminalization of relations in the economy is exacerbated by the growth of non-payments between business entities. The problems with payments began to be widely used by unscrupulous heads of state enterprises to receive illegal compensation for the timely payment of delivered products and services to private enterprises.

On November 27, 2017 it was decided to stop the criminal prosecution of all the defendants of the “Patriots’ Cause”, what was a complete surprise. Taking into consideration the fact, that the “Patriots’ Cause” was initiated personally by Aliaksandr Lukashenka, it can be said and the decision was taken either by him or with his consent.

At the end of November, Armenian Defence Minister Vigen Sargsyan paid a visit to Belarus. On November 28, 2017 talks between the heads of defence departments of Belarus and Armenia were held. It is necessary to note the accents that the parties set. The Belarusian Minister spoke extremely broadly, resting on traditional partnership relations in all spheres of state building. In turn, Sargsyan drew attention to the fact that Belarus and Armenia have mutual obligations within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (hereinafter referred to as the CSTO) and the principle “one for all and all for one” is in force.

On November 29, 2017 an intergovernmental Belarusian-Kazakh agreement on the production and scientific-technical cooperation of organizations of defence industries was signed. The document provides for cooperation in the areas of development, production, commissioning, installation, modernization and repair of military as well as dual-use products, military-technical services, supplies of components, training and support assets.

On November 30, 2017 the CSTO summit, concluding the Belarus presidency in the Organization, was held in Minsk. The event was ritual and bureaucratic. The leaders of the participating countries approved a number of documents and declarative non-binding to anything statements. The fact that this summit did not become a breakthrough is evidenced by the extremely sparse coverage of it even by official media of the participating countries. For Belarus, the most important thing is that Vladimir Putin and Aliaksandr Lukashenka have limited themselves to the protocol format of communication: the Belarusian-Russian union is in crisis and so far there are no signs that the parties are ready to resolve it.

Several significant statements were made on during the summit. Thus, Colonel-General Anatoly Sidorov, the head of the Joint Staff of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, said that during the exercises to be held in 2018 under the aegis of the Organization, the experience gained by Russian troops in Syria will be used. Also, the work of the CSTO countries on the formation of a single list of terrorist organizations is continuing and the joint anti-terrorist operation “Mercenary” is planned. The need for the latter is explained by the recruitment activity of international terrorist networks.

On November 30, 2017 a meeting of the Military Technical Committee of the Council of CIS Defence Ministers was held. The issues of development of armoured vehicles and military motor vehicles, prospects of military robotics for solving combat and supporting tasks of the land forces, as well as the results of joint Belarusian-Russian special exercises of logistics forces were discussed.

After successful tests of a new version of the multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) “Polonaise” in November, it was announced about the intention to upgrade the samples of this weapon, put into service, to the level of “Polonaise-M”. It is also planned to continue equipping the military units and subunits of missile forces and artillery with the upgraded Polonaise-M complex.

In November, a meeting with officers of the ideological work of the army was held. Among other issues, the peculiarities of conducting ideological work during military operations in the city were studied. It is noted that this type of combat requires a high level of psychological stability of servicemen. The troops size of the company and smaller can fight in the situation of the absence of radio communication for a long time. The adoption of measures to ensure the safety of civilians in the area of ​​fighting is also required. Another issue was the work to strengthen military discipline, law and order in the army, as well as promotion of patriotism among the population.

Conclusions. In the Belarusian-Ukrainian espionage case, the main issue at the present time is on whose fault the confidential political information became public. The circle of officials in Kyiv and Minsk, who knew the details of what happened, is rather narrow. There are reasonable grounds to assert that information about the espionage scandal was thrown into the circle of Belarusian non-state political analysts from Moscow. Thus, in the upper echelon of power in Kyiv and / or in Minsk there are informers who transmit politically sensitive information to Russia.

It is necessary to note a difference in accents of the Belarusian and Chinese sources while covering the visit of the Minister of Defence of Belarus to the PRC. The first ones focused on the assistance that Beijing provides to the Belarusian army. The second – on the fact that bilateral military cooperation is developing within the framework of the Belarusian-Chinese political relations and the “One Belt — One Way” initiative. Obviously, for China, relations with Minsk are becoming increasingly an element of great-power status and are not explained only by pragmatic interests. But pragmatism is of fundamental importance for Minsk: Belarusian authorities are ready to support Chinese ambitions, hoping to get concrete benefits and guarantees for this.

One of the results of “West-2017” is that the negative attitude of the West and Ukraine toward Russian military activity in Eastern Europe somehow extends to Belarusian army as well, which the official Minsk tried to avoid.

Reducing the “transparency” of the Belarusian-Russian border poses a threat to the socio-political stability of the Belarusian regions bordering Russia. The high dependence of the local population on trade and economic relations (including illegal ones) with Russia, coupled with the popularity of Vladimir Putin there (and growing antipathy towards Aliaksandr Lukashenka) creates a favourable environment for protest sentiments and the ability to manipulate the situation from the outside.

President Lukashenka with enviable persistence demands from the border department to attract external (European) financial resources to strengthen the border security of Belarus. Therefore, the interest of the State Border Committee in cooperation with foreign colleagues in attracting external financial assistance is great — this is one of the indicators of the success of the Committee leaders’ actions.

Judging by the participants, the Interdepartmental Commission on Security in the Information Sphere will work on both information-technical and information-psychological issues. If everything is relatively good with the first ones in Belarus (information technologies are at a rather high level of development), then everything is sad with the information-psychological part: narratives of Russian propaganda dominate the national information field, the information product of state-run media is not competitive, as evidenced by the need for annual large grants from the budget and regular campaigns for compulsory subscription to printed government media. Without budgetary money and forced distribution, the most Belarusian state-owned media are simply nonviable.

It can be surely assumed that the major projects in the field of the Belarusian-Cuban military-technical cooperation are connected with the issues of overhaul, restoration and modernization of Cuban military aircraft and air defence systems, as well as with unmanned aircraft.

It is unlikely that the issue of the military-industrial complex at the meeting of President Lukashenka with the Georgian parliamentarians were discussed accidentally. The Belarusian leader probably spoke about the prospects of cooperation between Belarus and Georgia in this area. Which serves as an indirect evidence of the extremely tense relations between official Minsk and the Kremlin. Russia remains an eventual adversary of Georgia. The willingness of the Belarusian leader to arm Tbilisi (directly or indirectly) is a sign of scepticism about the future of Belarusian-Russian relations.

Obviously, Belarusian authorities are aware of the threat of mass protests caused by the socio-economic situation in the country. Which means they are not optimistic about their ability to overcome the crisis in the short term.

It is inappropriate to put the work with the servicemen in the MIA IT as an example to an army: the fact that the problems with discipline, law and order there are not known to the general public doesn’t mean there are no such problems. Maintaining statutory relations between servicemen, observing the rule of law, and preventing drug addiction are permanent topics for meetings of the Military Council of the MIA IT. Which indicates the relevance of these issues.

Termination of the “Patriots’ Cause” is not only a legal, but also a political decision. One of the reasons why it was initiated was an attempt on the part of the official Minsk to “frighten” the Kremlin with the prospect of a colour revolution in Belarus and to obtain concessions from Russia. The termination of the “Patriots’ Cause” means that the relations between the two countries are in a state when the symbolic steps for their improvement/stabilization are no longer sufficient.

Armenia calls for bringing the international military policy of Belarus in line with the CSTO commitments. Yerevan’s concern is caused by defence cooperation between Minsk and Baku. The November visit of the Minister of Defence of Armenia Vigen Sargsyan to Belarus can be partly seen as a reaction to the visit of Azerbaijani Defence Minister Zakir Hasanov and the prospects of the delivery to Azerbaijan of a MLRS “Polonaise” capable of neutralizing the effect of the presence of Russian “Iskander-E” missile systems in Armenia.

The importance that Astana and Minsk attach to cooperation in the field of military-industrial complex is evidenced by the fact that in 2017 the Chairman of the State Committee for Trade and Industry of Belarus Aleh Dzvihalyou met with the Minister of Defence and Aerospace Industry of Kazakhstan Beibut Atamkulov for three times. One of the possible areas of Belarusian-Kazakh cooperation can be the production of unmanned aerial systems developed by the Academy of Sciences of Belarus.

The Belarus chairmanship in the CSTO confirmed the low level of solidarity of the member states and the different directions of their interests. The organization is rather a platform for discussing security issues in the post-Soviet space, rather than a working mechanism for ensuring security. The policy of Belarusian authorities in the foreseeable future will be aimed at building a zone of good-neighbourliness with neighbouring countries and with NATO in broader perspective. At the same time, Minsk will strive to raise the level of cooperation in the security sphere with countries from other regions (China, Serbia, Turkey, etc.).

In November, the draft budget for 2018 was unofficially announced. The volume of financing of the state program approved by decree of April 20, 2016 No. 147 (top secret) will grow by more than 5 times to about USD 50 million. Almost all the money will be received by the Defence Ministry. It seems that the state program is related to the development and production of missile systems of weapons. The increase in funding can be caused by the forthcoming purchases / production of new MLRS Polonaise and especially ammunition for them (missiles with a range of 300 km and M-20 ballistic missiles) or with the creation of a national medium-range anti-aircraft missile system.