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

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The most important events of the month. On November 8, 2018 the Summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) was held. It resulted in a noisy scandal between the formal allies: it was not possible to agree on the candidacy of the new Secretary General of the Organization, in exchange for Yuri Khachaturov, who represented Armenia and was withdrawn from the position by Armenian authorities. Yerevan insists on their right to nominate a candidate instead of the former representative within the term of rotation. A part of the CSTO countries states that, by withdrawing Mr. Khachaturov, Armenia thereby transferred the right to nominate the head of the Organization to the next country in Cyrillic alphabet — Belarus. The situation was so scandalous that the acting CSTO leader Valery Semerikov commented on it. The essence of his statement was the following: the absence of a permanent Secretary General negatively affects neither the CSTO itself nor the security of the member states.

At the very same time with the CSTO summit, a joint meeting of the Councils of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Ministers of Defence and the Committee of Secretaries of Security Councils of the CSTO member states was held. There the changes to the composition of the military contingents and formations of the special-purpose forces of the Collective Rapid Reaction Forces and the composition of the CSTO peacekeeping contingents were made. The List of measures for the joint preparation of the CSTO collective security system for the period up to 2025 was approved as well.

In addition to the arguing with Armenia about the future CSTO Secretary General, Belarus used the summit to strengthen security cooperation with Kazakhstan:

— heads of the two countries’ security councils discussed promising areas of cooperation and signed a plan of cooperation for 2019-2020;

— a meeting of the Ministers of Defence of Kazakhstan and Belarus Nurlan Yermekbayev and Andrei Raukou was held, at which current and future areas of bilateral cooperation were discussed and the Plan of Military Cooperation for 2019 was signed.

The developments within the month. On November 1-3, the Chairman of the State Military-Industrial Committee of Belarus (SMIC) Raman Halouchanka visited China. Within the framework of the visit he met the leadership of the Main Directorate of Defence Science, Technology and Industry, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation and the NORINCO Corporation. The parties exchanged direct proposals on areas of partnership.

On November 2, 2018 the operational gathering of the commanders of the army of Belarus finished. The results of the training of the Armed Forces in the completed academic year were summed up, the tasks for the new academic year were set, questions of the preparation of military command bodies were discussed. Special attention was paid to correcting the shortcomings revealed during the combat and mobilization readiness checks.

During the operational gathering, a meeting of the collegium of the Ministry of Defence was held as well. There the next academic year was declared the year of military discipline and security of military service.

On November 6, 2018 Russian Ambassador to Belarus Mikhail Babich said that at present there is no need to deploy additional military contingents of Belarus and Russia in the region. The parties can return to this issue only in case of violation of the existing parity of military capabilities. Later, on November 16, 2018 Mr. Babich confirmed the readiness of his country to provide Belarus with the necessary assistance in the event of an external threat. Also, the Ambassador of Russia said that from 2015 Moscow had not made proposals to Belarus for the deployment of a military base. The diplomat said that in the current situation, the issue of deploying the Russian military base in Belarus “… must be removed from the political agenda”.

On November 12, 2018 SMIC Chairman Raman Halouchanka gave an interview about the achievements and prospects for the development of the domestic military industrial complex. We have dedicated a special material to this event.

On November 11, 2018 a meeting of the Council of Commanders of the Border Troops of the CIS countries was held in Bishkek. The following issues were discussed:

— state of border security in the Central Asian region;

— priority tasks of cooperation for 2019;

— the results of joint special border operations and the issues of their organization for the next period.

The Regulation on the organization and conduct of joint exercises of the border forces of the CIS countries to resolve (eliminate) the crisis situation at external borders was also approved.

On the same day, a meeting of the Council of heads of financial intelligence units of the CIS countries was held in Minsk. Among other things, the parties discussed the results of the activities of the two working groups established within the Council — on assessing risks and threats in the sphere of combating money laundering and financing of terrorism as well as developing risk management procedures with the aim of limiting (reducing) them and countering terrorist financing. The following issues were also discussed:

-regulating electronic payment systems in order to prevent their use for money laundering and terrorist financing;

-exchanging information between the financial intelligence units of the CIS countries;

-cryptocurrency turnover.

On November 14-16, a delegation of the Ministry of Defence of Belarus headed by Minister Andrei Raukou visited Vietnam. Meetings with the top leadership of the state, as well as in the Vietnamese Ministry of Defence were held. The heads of the defence ministries of the two countries signed the Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Military Science and the Plan of Bilateral Military Cooperation for 2019.

On November 15, 2017, during the visit of the Egyptian parliamentary delegation to Belarus, Belarusian officials proposed to organize joint development and production of UAVs.

On November 17-20, the 17th meeting of the Mixed Belarusian-Vietnamese commission on military-technical cooperation under the chairmanship of the SMIC head Mr. Halouchanka and Deputy Minister of National Defence of Vietnam Colonel-General Be Suan Chyong was held in Minsk. The parties discussed the results of cooperation in the framework of the implementation of the Plan of joint activities of military-technical cooperation between the Belarusian SMIC and the Vietnamese Ministry of Defence for 2018 and the interdepartmental Program of military-technical cooperation for 2016–2020. The Plan of joint activities of military-technical cooperation between departments for 2019 was agreed.

On November 19, 2018 President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev visited Belarus. As a result, a memorandum of understanding between the SMIC of Belarus and the Ministry of Defence of Azerbaijan on the development of cooperation in the supply of weapons and air defence equipment was signed. Ilham Aliyev said that in the near future the memorandum will be transformed into a contract for the acquisition by his country of the next batch of Belarusian military equipment.

On November 19, 2018 the 6th meeting of the secretaries of the security councils of the CIS countries took place in Moscow. During the event, the parties paid attention to countering the use of information technology to spread extremist ideas and to recruit new adepts to the ranks of terrorist organizations. It is stated that the CIS countries are sharing information about terrorist organizations in the Afghan-Pakistan border areas and in the Middle East. They also discussed cooperation in preventing financing of terrorist activities, including countering the legalization of profits from crime.

  On November 23, 2018 a working meeting of the heads of the border agencies of Belarus and Lithuania took place. The results of cooperation between the border guards of the two countries and the challenges of border security in a joint part of the border were discussed. In general, the situation is appreciated as stable and controllable. Joint border operations and operational activities will be continued, as well as implementation of projects to improve the border security system and infrastructure.

On November 26, 2018 the intentions to organize the production of Belarusian UAVs in Kazakhstan were announced at a meeting of the intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation.

On November 27, 2018 the Chairman of State Security Committee (SSC) of Belarus Valery Vakulchyk met the Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia Sergey Naryshkin. The parties reaffirmed their intention to develop cooperation in the fight against international terrorism and to strengthen the potential of the two countries in confronting global security threats. The leaders of the special services expressed their commitment to a peaceful settlement of the problems existing in the region.

On November 29, 2018, the official Minsk officially reacted to the clash of Ukrainian and Russian warships in the Kerch Strait area. The reaction was an answer to the questions of the state news agency BelTA and two Russian (!) state news agencies. Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makei spoke in the traditional “peacekeeping” manner and expressed the hope that the parties would refrain from escalating the situation.

At the end of November, the Belarusian military delegation took part in the international defence exhibition IDEAS-2018 in Pakistan. Within the framework of it, the negotiations with the leadership of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces of Pakistan on the prospects of military and military-technical cooperation were held.

The Belarusian army received two batches of new and modernized equipment in November:

— 10 T-72B3 tanks upgraded in Russia (i.e., company kit). In total, Belarus currently has 14 tanks of this modification;

— a battery of anti-aircraft missile systems “Tor-M2E”. This is the fifth battery. As far as is known, after receiving it, the formation of the 1146th anti-aircraft missile regiment will be completed.

In November, a draft Belarusian-Russian agreement on the mutual recognition of visas was agreed. The parties extremely vaguely comment on the content of the agreements. In particular, there is no specifics regarding the organization of the crossing by citizens of third countries of the land border between Belarus and Russia. Since summer of 2016, Moscow has practically closed it, motivating its actions with safety considerations and the requirements of Russian legislation, according to which the border crossing is carried out at international checkpoints. And there are no such checkpoints on the Belarusian-Russian border, therefore, citizens of third countries cannot cross it.

During November, the prosecutor’s office showed activity in strengthening law and order in the army, ensuring compliance with the law on military service:

— in the 6th Mechanized Brigade, a meeting of the compound command and representatives of the prosecutor’s office on the basis of the results of the prosecutor’s check on the safety of weapons and ammunition was held;

— a meeting of prosecutors with soldiers of the 86th Communications Brigade on the issues of legislation on military service, responsibility for violation of the procedure for the military service and non-statutory relations between servicemen, actions in case of unlawful acts committed against a soldier was held;

— a similar event was held in the 8th brigade of radiation, chemical and biological protection;

— the representative of the prosecutor’s office of the Homel region addressed the conscripts sent to the troops and spoke about the responsibility for non-statutory relations between the military personnel;

— The Prosecutor of the Homel Region Viktar Marozau met with the Chief of the General Staff of the Belarusian Army Aleh Belakoneu. They discussed the problematic issues of organizing military service (while in the Homel region at least 5% of young people during each draft campaign try to avoid conscription). Mr. Marozau also raised the issue of the safety of weapons and ammunition. The urgency of the latter problem was motivated by the fact that the weapon could fall into the hands of “… extremist-minded individuals” and would be used to destabilize the situation.

Conclusions. The figure of the CSTO Secretary General has little influence. Another thing is important here: we observe not just the inability of the CSTO member states to agree on not the most significant procedural issue, but their unwillingness (including Russia, without participation of which this conflict would not have arisen) to follow the rules and spirit of the CSTO statutory documents.

It is obvious that the autocracies of the CSTO decided to punish the new Armenian authorities and deprive Armenia of the post of head of the Organization for a peaceful but revolutionary change of power and bringing to justice the previous leaders of the state for the crimes committed. The autocrats of the CSTO countries, who consider their power sacred and inviolable, regard the actions of the current authorities in Yerevan as a blasphemy, which cannot go unpunished. The curiosity is that the only punishment available to Armenia is to deprive her of the right to nominate a representative for the post of technical leader in an unhealthy regional organization.

It is also obvious that Yerevan does not intend to cede its right to the post of CSTO Secretary General. In this situation, much depends on the Kremlin. If Russia does not support the Armenian position, under pressure from internal public opinion, the Armenian leadership will be forced to block (at least for a while) the appointment of the head of the CSTO. Which finally discredits the Organization, the authority of which is already not very high, to put it mildly. At the same time, it will strike at Moscow’s attempts to consolidate the post-Soviet space.

Challenging the right of Armenia to nominate a candidate for the post of the CSTO Secretary General, Belarus and Kazakhstan are demonstrating indirect support to their strategic ally, Azerbaijan. Earlier, Minsk and Astana have already blocked the appointment of a representative of Yerevan as the head of the Organization.

The Chinese Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation is one of the leaders in the production and launch of satellites, military missiles production and the production of UAVs. All these areas are among the priorities of the Belarusian military industrial complex.

Speaking about the prospects for the supply of air defence equipment from Belarus to Azerbaijan, we note the following. Belarusian military-industrial complex took part in the modernization of anti-aircraft missile systems S-125, “Buk”, short-range air defence systems, which are already in service with the Azerbaijani army. But we can talk about the supply of new technology (radar, air defence control system) and fire weapons. It is worth recalling that after the re-equipment of the 147th anti-aircraft missile brigade (now the regiment) with the SAMs “Osa”, there is the issue of the fate of 3 or 4 S-300V battalions that had previously been in service. In addition, the creation of a national medium range air defence system is one of the priorities of Belarusian military-industrial complex. Given the scale of the project, Baku is likely to participate in it financially.

The CIS countries autocracies often use the issue of countering international terrorism and the use of information technologies for spreading extremist ideas in ordert to cover up pressure on their political opponents, as well as to control the spread of politically sensitive information via the Internet.

Earlier, the Federal Security Service of Russia acted as the main partner of the SSC of Belarus. However, in recent years, there was no information on cooperation between the two special services (including the formerly traditional annual joint collegiums). Moreover, a number of incidents involving Russian citizens in Belarus are suspicious of the involvement of Russian special services in them. The development of cooperation between the Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia and the SSC of Belarus partially compensates for the cooling of the relations of the Belarusian secret service with other subjects of the intelligence community of Russia. The head of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia Mr. Naryshkin has the reputation of a consistent supporter of the Belarusian-Russian cooperation.

It is necessary to pay attention to the statement of the heads of the the Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia and the SSC of Belarus about their commitment to the peaceful settlement of the problems existing in the region. The probability is high that this passage was made public in the interests of the Belarus: official Minsk seeks to preserve the image of a peacemaker, the special nature of relations with Russia and its independence from it at the same time. And it would be even better to create an impression of a casual observer that the Belarusian leadership is able to influence the Kremlin.

As far as can be judged, Belarus generally hoped to avoid the need to publicly designate a position on the fact of the Russian attack on Ukrainian warships. Minsk’s unwillingness to take a precisely Russian or Ukrainian position is explained not least by the economic interests of Belarus: Russia and Ukraine are export markets No. 1 and No. 2 for Belarusian products. It is unlikely that the format and content of Mr. Makei’s speech on the “Kerch incident” satisfied official Kiev. The selection of news agencies through which this position was communicated will only strengthen the opinion in the neighbouring country about the extremely small field of Minsk to manoeuvre because of fears to cause a harsh reaction from Moscow.

The concern of the prosecutor’s office with the state of legality in the military is a manifestation of sentiment at the highest level. The effectiveness of the steps taken is still doubtful: intimidation of punishment for violations has a limited and short-term effect. A serious reform of the order of military service, the system of ensuring law and order in the army and monitoring violations is necessary for a fundamental change in the situation. More active public involvement is required as well. But the authorities are clearly not ready for this, preferring to act according to the algorithm that is familiar to them: to intensify the ideological indoctrination of servicemen and increase discipline by toughening responsibility for violations. As a result, in the field the negative phenomena will be concealed, instead of eliminating the causes generating them.

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