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

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The most important events of the month. In November, Belarus received the first 4 Russian Su-30SM heavy fighters according to the 2017 contract. We dedicated a separate article to this event. It is worth noting that, as the State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Stanislau Zas explained, at first Minsk counted on Russia’s help in updating the national air force. But Moscow offered to deploy its military air base in Belarus. Minsk decided to act independently. The final decision to pay for the first batch of aircraft was made personally by Aliaksandr Lukashenka. The latter said Su-30SM were purchased for Belarusian money and expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of adequate financial assistance to Russia to maintain the Belarusian military potential.

The need for an expensive purchase of Su-30 SM aircraft in conditions of economic stagnation is allegedly caused by the exhaustion of the resource of the MiG-29 fighters available in Belarus. Which is quite doubtful at least for a part of MiG aircraft. For example, Serbia plans to operate fighter jets received from Belarus and Russia even after 2030. Despite the fact that Minsk provided Belgrade with the aircraft far from being the newest out of stock.

The developments within the month. On November 7, 2019 Tashkent hosted a meeting of the Council of Heads of Security Agencies and Special Services of the CIS Countries. It is stated that the special services of the Commonwealth have identified 13 locations for groups posing threats, 130 militants have been seized, and large quantities of narcotic drugs have been confiscated. Uzbekistan took an active part in the operations.

The meeting addressed issues of cooperation in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, transnational organized crime, as well as the prevention of ethnic and religious conflicts in the CIS, ensuring the safety of transport communications and the economy. The situation in Afghanistan was discussed as well.

On November 12, 2019, the State Military Industrial Committee (SMIC) board discussed the development of the Strategy for the development of the defence sector of the economy and SMIC of Belarus until 2030. The Strategy should be fundamentally different from previously adopted long-term planning documents. The main objective of the Strategy is the development of the national defence industry as a high-tech sector of the country’s economy, capable of satisfying the needs of the army in modern weapons, as well as ensuring the strategic presence of enterprises in the world markets for high-tech products and services. The document focuses the defence industry enterprises on the fast-growing markets of defence and civilian products as well as on active innovation.

During the discussion, it was stated that the adoption of new equipment to service is an important factor for its subsequent promotion of products on foreign markets.

On the same day, the results of the SMIC development in January-September of the current year were discussed. It is stated that the planned indicators were generally achieved. The export of the SMIC enterprises exceeded the planned volumes by 16.7%, and the profitability of sales by organizations amounted to 20% against the planned 12%. The industrial production indicator for the reporting period exceeded the target by 7.4%. The amount of net profit by the SMIC organizations was 2.3 times higher than the planned level. The absence of unprofitable organizations in the SMIC system is presented as an important achievement. The average salary for the period from January to September at the SMIC enterprises amounted to about USD 750.

According to the results of 2019, it is planned to achieve positive dynamics in socio-economic development in comparison with the previous year. The portfolio of contracts for the current year provides for a significant volume of output at the end of the year. It is planned to achieve an increase in industrial production of 107.5% and the exports volume around USD 1 billion with an increase in net profit.

On November 14, 2019 Lukashenka met the Chairman of the State Border Committee Anatol Lapo and the State Secretary of Security Council Stanislau Zas. The interaction of Belarus and Russia in border issues was discussed. The event was used to publicly express dissatisfaction with the actions of Moscow, not only regarding cooperation in the field of border security, but also in security field in general. Lukashenka said that Belarusian border guards work with greater effect than their Russian counterparts. There were claims regarding restrictions on crossing the Belarusian-Russian land border for third-country nationals. Border crossing for trucks has also been complicated. At the same time, Belarus incurs significant costs in ensuring Russia’s security in the border sphere and in the field of air defence. The latter, allegedly, works almost exclusively in the interests of Russia. Lukashenka put forward the idea (instructed the subordinates) to assess the cost of security services that Belarus provides to Russia.

The need for a new agreement with Russia in the field of border security was announced. If Moscow refuses — Minsk is ready to act alone, but in this case proceeding only from its own interests. Later, Mr. Zas clarified that Belarus does not plan to withdraw from the 1995 agreement with Russia on mutual efforts in border protection. Minsk expects to amend it in order to bring it into line with the current situation. One should recall that earlier Stanislau Zas announced the possibility of Minsk not extending the validity of this agreement.

On November 14-15, the Minister of Defence of Uzbekistan Bakhodir Kurbanov visited Minsk. He held negotiations with the leadership of the Ministry of Defence and the Security Council of Belarus, discussing the results of military and military-technical cooperation between the two countries. The promising projects with the participation of military departments and defence enterprises of the two countries were discussed as well.

On November 20, 2019, the VII meeting of the secretaries of the CIS Security Councils was held. A shift in terrorist activity from the Syrian-Iraqi zone to the CIS southern borders was stated. The movement of militants trained for subversive work to the CIS countries is noted as well. During bilateral meetings, a plan for cooperation between the security councils of Russia and Belarus for 2020-2021 was signed.

On November 17-21, the delegation of the military-industrial complex of Belarus participated in the Dubai Airshow-2019 exhibition. The SMIC Chairman Raman Halouchanka, held a series of meetings with the leadership of the army and the military-industrial complex of the UAE, the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation of Russia, JSC Rosoboronexport, and the Ministry of Defence of Serbia.

On November 20-21, Minsk hosted a meeting of an expert group on agreeing on a draft Concept for the development of information exchange in the field of security and law and order. The task is to create an effective information exchange system to combat cross-border crime.

On November 21, 2019 Aliaksandr Lukashenka held a meeting on the development of a secure communication system. The discussion was based on the results of the audit of the State Security Committee (SSC) Operational and Analytical Centre (OAC) in the field of government communications, its reliability and security. It was stated that:

— domestic developments in the field of secure communications are in demand on the international market;

— Belarus is independent of foreign developments in terms of stationary government communications, which are protected from foreign intelligence;

— An urgent issue is the development of secure mobile communications systems.

Judging by the open part of the meeting, the latter issue was the key one for the discussion.

On November 26-27, the 53rd meeting of the board of the Border Committee of Belarus and Russia was held. Border security plans for 2020 were discussed. The parties also dwelled on issues of improving the legal framework for cooperation. Obviously, in the latter case we are talking about a new edition of the agreement between Minsk and Moscow on joint actions in the field of border security of 1995.

On November 28, 2019 Bishkek hosted the summit of the CSTO Heads of State. The event was of a planned working nature and was not a breakthrough. A number of documents were signed in the fight against terrorism, on reducing tensions in the Tajik-Afghan border, on scientific and technical cooperation within the framework of the CSTO, and on amending the procedure for conducting the ongoing operation to counter crimes in the field of information technology “PROXY”. The budget of the Organization for 2020 has been approved. Lukashenka used the platform to promote his peacekeeping initiatives. Which, judging by the lack of reaction of the participants, did not arouse interest among the formal allies of Minsk.

On November 28-29, the 18th meeting of the Joint Belarusian-Vietnamese Military-Technical Cooperation Commission took place in Vietnam. It was chaired by the SMIC head Raman Halouchanka and the Deputy Minister of National Defence of Vietnam, Colonel-General Be Suan Chuong. The parties discussed the results achieved and determined the areas of cooperation. They also signed a plan of joint measures of military-technical cooperation for 2020. Belarusian specialists visited the defence industry enterprises of Vietnam.

In November, it became known that Belarusian Ministry of Defence was finalizing the preparation of the adjusted state Defence Plan for 2020-2024. The Concept for the Development of the Armed Forces until 2030 will be approved together with the Plan. Based on these documents, an Army Development Plan will be adopted.

For the second year in a row, SMIC, the Ministry of Defence, and the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus trained specialists in Belarusian combat unmanned aerial systems. The practical part of the events was held at military training grounds in the presence of representatives of the Security Council of Belarus. During the training, the specialists used experimental UAVs of two enterprises: “Design Bureau Display” and the “Scientific and Practical Centre for Multifunctional Unmanned Aircraft Systems” of the Academy of Sciences. In total, about 90 combat training missions were completed. The results of the training will be used to improve the existing UAVs as well as to develop new ones.

In November, the prosecutor’s office continued to work to ensure law in the army. So, preventive measures were carried out in the 86th signal brigade and in the 15th anti-aircraft missile brigade. It is necessary to admit, that the prosecutors explained the servicemen the responsibility for illegal drug trafficking in military units (!) and conducted a physical examination of the servicemen’s bodies for damage.

A Coordination Meeting of the representatives of the Ministry of Defence of the CIS countries on the use of unmanned aircraft and UAV counteraction was held in Yerevan. In particular, the Russian experience of using UAVs and repelling massive drone attacks during military operations in Syria was discussed.

In November, the conscription campaign for military service in Belarus was finished. In this connection, some data on the state of the human potential of the security and defence sector were announced:

— more than 25% of soldiers and sergeants in the army already serve under the contract;

— the health status of draftees is rapidly deteriorating, if in the spring 2016 51% of draftees were fit for the military service, then in the spring of this year – only 34%;

— the number of draft evaders, as a rule, is less than 1% (this year there are only 261 such people);

— 55 people undergo alternative service, on average 10-15 people per draft campaign;

— it is planned to send about 12 thousand people to military service and 200 people to reserve for the formation of troops and military units.

In November, it was announced that during the exercises of the missile forces in May 2019 at the Sary-Shagan training ground in Kazakhstan, the tasks of striking with the Tochka-U tactical missile system using all types of missiles were trained. The test launches of the Polonaise missile system at a range of up to 300 kilometres were held as well.

Conclusions. Uzbekistan is refusing from self-isolation and is actively involving in security cooperation in the post-Soviet space. At the same time, Tashkent, obviously, has political ambitions. The future will show, whether they go beyond the framework of Central Asia. In any case, Minsk continues to demonstrate interest in cooperation with Uzbekistan in the field of security.

Speaking about the Strategy of the development of defence sector of the economy and SMIC until 2030, it is necessary to pay attention to the following. There is a task to coordinate the development goals of the country’s military-industrial complex with the plans for the army development. Apparently, there is a problem with the coordination of the work of the two departments.

Further, it is obvious that the Ministry of Defence is persistent and does not want to adopt “raw” Belarusian-made equipment under the promises of manufacturers to bring it to an acceptable technical level later. Which is the point of tension between the MoD and SMIC. It can be assumed that one of the reasons for the retirement of the chief of the General Staff of the Army, General Aleh Belakoneu was his conflict with SMIC.

Regarding the results of the national military industry for the 9 months of 2019, we should note two points. Firstly, SMIC does not operate with growth/fall indicators compared to the same period last year, but only in comparison with the planned indicators. Which may be smaller in comparison to last year’s level. Secondly, one should pay attention to a more than three-fold drop in total Belarusian exports to Azerbaijan (by USD 263 million) following the results of 10 months of the current year. Obviously, this is precisely about reducing military exports to Azerbaijan. It is worth recalling that at the end of 2018, Azerbaijan became the main market for Belarusian military industry.

The specific results of SMIC performance will be known only at the end of the year. Then it will be possible to relatively objectively assess the dynamics of the industry.

Speaking about the prospects for changing the Belarusian-Russian agreement on joint efforts in the field of border protection from 1995, we should note the following. Obviously, Minsk does not seek to aggravate relations with Moscow, wishing to maintain the security sphere as relatively conflict-free. Regarding the changes to the agreement that may be proposed by the Belarus, we can assume that one can talk about obtaining Russian financial support for the arrangement of the Belarusian-Ukrainian border, by analogy with the financial assistance that Russia provided in arranging the border of Belarus with the Baltic countries.

The Belarusian military-industrial complex demonstrates interest in cooperating with the UAE holding EDGE. In two months there were two meetings with the top management of the holding. EDGE works in areas of high interest to the defence industry of Belarus, including cybersecurity, laser technology (including laser weapons), high-precision weapons (including missiles), UAVs, electronic warfare, ground multi-purpose wheeled platforms, as well as small arms and ammunition production. At the same time, “EDGE” has the thing that Belarusian defence industry lacks — money. Obviously, Belarus is interested both in the possibility of joint development and in the role of the contractor for Belarusian enterprises in the projects of the UAE conglomerate.

In August of this year, Aliaksandr Lukashenka already got acquainted with the SSC developments in the field of secure communications. Probably, then the Operational and Analytical Centre was also instructed to work in this field.

Vietnam has a fourth military budget in Southeast Asia. A32 Aircraft Repair Plant, which was visited by a delegation of the military-industrial complex of Belarus, specializes in the current and overhaul of fighters of the Su-27/Su-30 family. One of the directions of the Belarusian-Vietnamese military-technical cooperation may just be the repair and modernization of aircraft in the interests of the Vietnamese army at the Vietnamese enterprise.

In Belarus there is no practice of publishing strategic planning documents in the field of national security. The state defence plan acts as a working document for the institutions ensuring the military security of the state. It contains an algorithm of actions in case of external military threats. This document is classified as top secret.

The UAVs demonstrated in November as combat UAVs do not correspond to the level that Lukashenka demanded in October 2018. So far, as far as one can judge, the task is to train the technology of UAV usage on the existing units. It is interesting to note that the same “Burevestnik-MB” UAV, which is positioned as a combat one, did not participate in the event both this and last year. Nothing has been reported about its tests as a combat UAV at all.

In September-November of the current year, the prosecutor’s office carried out 32 crime prevention activities among military personnel. The Belarusian system of government responds to problems, and does not seek to prevent them. Obviously, drug use among military personnel has been identified. There is a question of the scale of this phenomenon. Given the fact that the task of establishing law and order and strengthening control over the situation in the troops has been set at the highest political level, there is no reason to expect a decrease in the corresponding activity of the Belarusian prosecutor’s office. It is necessary to note that the Ministry of Defence itself announced the upcoming 2020 as the year of exemplary order.

Statements by officials of the Ministry of Defence that less than 1% of the total number of candidates for military service evade draft, are refuted by other officials. So, it was previously stated that the number of draft evaders is approximately 4 thousand people per draft campaign. Which corresponds to the data for the Homiel region for the past year: at least 5% of people who are subject to military recruitment events evade appearing in military commissariats. The military have the access to the indicators of liability for draft evasion, as stipulated by law. The total number of those who cannot be found for the delivery of the summons is measured by many thousands. Bringing all draft evaders to justice has already become not just a legal, but a political problem. There is a question about the value of the Belarusian state for its young citizens, thousands of whom prefer the risk of being in prison to joining the ranks of defenders of the existing Republic of Belarus. There is a complete failure of ideological and patriotic work on the level of both the MoD and the state apparatus in whole.

It is necessary to pay special attention to the sharp decrease (5-10 times) in the number of people assigned to serve in the reserve, with a simultaneous increase in those called up for military service (by 20-25%) compared with calls from previous years (until the fall of 2018). This can be explained only by an increase in the need for conscription contingent in connection with an increase in the staff number of troops as well as with the unsatisfactory results of the reserve service institute (in fact, the militia system of military training during periodic relatively short-term training camps).

Regarding the training of Belarusian rocket launchers in Kazakhstan, it was reported that on May 15, 2019, the MLRS “Polonaise” shot the missiles “… up to 85 kilometres”. The range for “Tochka” missiles was 60 and 90 kilometres. The reason for not disclosing the “Polonaise” launches to over 300 km may be either their unsatisfactory result or the reluctance to divulge information about ammunition (probably new) that was tested during the training. Of course, both reasons may be relevant at the same time.

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