Situation in the field of national security and defence of Belarus (November 2020)

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The most important events of the month. On November 19, 2020 Aliaksandr Lukashenka made a number of appointments in law enforcement agencies. The commander of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Internal Troops (hereinafter referred to as MIA IT) Yury Nazaranka, became the First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs — the head of the public security police. The internal troops were headed by Mikalai Karpiankou, famous for his participation in the harsh suppression of protests in Minsk.

In addition, ex-Minister of Defence and ex-Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Andrei Raukou was appointed Ambassador to Azerbaijan. The ex-General Prosecutor Aliaksandr Kaniuk of the country was appointed Ambassador to Armenia. At the same time Lukashenka for some reason publicly began to explain that sending them to diplomatic work is not an honourable pension: they are still in “the ruler’s team”. In this case, Lukashenka’s statements should be understood exactly the opposite way: appointment to ambassadorial posts in post-Soviet capitals is a traditional mechanism for the honourable resignation of high-ranking officials. The only exception is the post of ambassador to Russia, where one has to work hard.

The developments within the month. On November 23, 2020 Lukashenka met the Minister of Defence of Belarus Viktar Khrenin. During the meeting, the prospects for a more active participation of the country in peacekeeping operations were discussed (now this participation is limited to the UN mission in Lebanon and the monitoring mission in Ukraine within the OSCE). It is also planned to create a Youth Patriotic Centre in the Brest Fortress under the auspices of the Defence Ministry.

Further, the head of the Ministry of Defence of Belarus said that about 9 thousand conscripts were drafted into the army to improve their level of training and maintenance of equipment and weapons in 2020.

Mr. Khrenin said that the situation near the borders of Belarus is difficult due to the military exercises of neighbouring states, but there are no threats to the country.

Also, the MoD head said that only 20% of the males serve in the army. In fact, about 30% serve in the Armed Forces and about 10% more in the structures of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the State Border Committee and the State Security Committee (SSC).

On November 27, 2020 Lukashenka delighted the audience with news from the intelligence: according to him, a centre for information and psychological operations against Belarus has been created in Ukraine near Kiev. In addition to the one that, according to Lukashenka, was previously seen near Warsaw. Subversive centres specialize in Telegram channels. Naturally, American specialists run everything there. Further, Lukashenka, referring to the intelligence reports of the SSC, cited alleged statements by foreign officials of an anti-Belarusian orientation.

On the same day, a meeting of the Interstate Commission on Military-Economic Cooperation of the CSTO via videoconference was held. The participants discussed, in particular, the issues of cooperation in the joint development and modernization of military products, implementation of joint measures in diversification of products of CSTO member states military-industrial complexes.

The prosecutor’s office, actively involved in punitive activities to suppress popular protests, demonstrates a fair amount of ingenuity in this direction. Thus, in November in the Brest region, a webinar for leaders and specialists of cultural institutions of the region was held. During the event, the issues of the work of libraries and clubs with young people were discussed, including “the sphere of the formation of legal awareness and respect for the law”. The representative of the prosecutor’s office also raised issues of adverse consequences for citizens participating in the protests.

The Chinese coronavirus pandemic continues to influence the format of security cooperation within the CIS/CSTO. The most important consultative and political events are being held in a remote format, and the scale of joint combat training is decreasing. At the same time, the countries concerned do not show optimism about the possibility of taking control of the pandemic in the coming months. The issue of organizing joint exercises in the context of the continuation of the pandemic has been discussed.

During November, Belarus MoD command made several statements regarding the prospects for purchasing new equipment and weapons for the needs of the army. This year, a prototype of the BRDM-4B2 reconnaissance vehicle was purchased. It is capable of conducting radar reconnaissance of ground and low-flying air targets, optical and optical-electronic reconnaissance, including in the infrared spectrum, aerial reconnaissance using UAVs. In 2021, it is planned to supply ten such vehicles to equip one of the reconnaissance battalions with them. The light «Buggy» vehicles, parachute systems, observation devices of the “Puma” type, new types of reconnaissance equipment and UAVs are purchased as well.

The Ministry of Defence will continue purchasing Su-30SM aircraft (4 units) in 2021. There are also plans to buy 4 Mi-35 helicopters and two battalion sets of BTR-82A for mechanized battalions as well as electronic warfare and communications equipment produced in Belarus.

According to the prepared plan for the development of the Armed Forces of Belarus for 2021-2025, the upgrade of weapons will be carried out based on the financial capabilities of the state. Which means that one shouldn’t wait for a fundamental improvement in the financial support of national defence. In best case, the financing of the army, at least in terms of the procurement of new equipment, will be carried out at the lower limit of necessary units.

The financial condition of the military-industrial complex of Belarus continues to deteriorate. So, the ratio of the debt and the wage fund of organizations subordinated to the State Military Industry Committee (SMIC), amounted to 21.1% as of October 1, 2020. Which means, that even for paying the wages of the staff, every fifth BYN was borrowed. It is necessary to recall, that from March to September the volume of the wage fund, provided by borrowed resources, increased from 6.6% to 18.4%.

There is a rapid increase in the number of cybercrimes in Belarus. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 20,357 cases were registered for 11 months of this year, compared to just over 9,000 for the same period in 2019. More than 90% of all registered cybercrimes are committed against property (theft of funds from bank cards and accounts). Attackers actively use social engineering methods.

Conclusions. Sending Andrei Raukou to Azerbaijan is generally explained by the fact that the basis of bilateral cooperation is the security sphere: first of all, the supply of products of the Belarusian military-industrial complex to this country. Which will become the main area of ​​activities of the new representative of Belarus in Baku.

Traditionally, the first deputy head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs was the head of the criminal police. The fact that now this status is given to the head of the public security militia is a reflection of the main direction of the MIA activities: suppression of open discontent of the people. Thus, the regime does not count on the rapid decay of popular protests. The appointment of Mikalai Karpiankou as the MIA IT commander may result in an increase in police violence against protesters. In addition, this is a reward for loyalty — it is very likely that in the near future Karpiankou will become a general.

Expanding the participation of Belarus in peacekeeping operations is part of the general policy to strengthen the country’s foreign policy subjectivity. However, the punitive actions of the Belarusian regime against peaceful protests dealt a crushing blow to the image of the official Minsk, making it toxic for civilized countries. Without a tangible improvement in the internal political situation, the number of Belarusian peacekeepers abroad will not change this fact.

9 thousand people called up for military training this year is perhaps a record for the entire existence of the modern Belarusian army. In previous years, an average of 2-4 thousand people were involved into these events. At the same time, this year there were not such large-scale combat training events that would require the involvement of thousands of conscripts. Obviously, the bulk of the events with their participation were of a company-battalion scale.

The place of organization of the Youth Centre for Patriotic Education actually predetermines the format of such education: reliance on the mythology of the Second World War in a neo-Soviet style according to the Russian model. The authorities have not invented anything new in this area and they are not going to do do. Obviously, the result will be traditionally unsatisfactory. The style of the late Brezhnev is not very attractive to Belarusian youth.

Lukashenka’s statement about some intelligence centres working against Belarus from the territory of neighbouring countries is a traditional attempt by the regime to deny the internal nature of the political crisis in Belarus. This means the refusal from looking for solutions to this crisis. The regime says that everything was provoked from outside, the protests are the intrigues of the enemies, the authorities did everything right and there is no need to change the policy. The reference to foreign intelligence data is nothing more than a manipulative technique with the aim of giving additional weight to propaganda fakes. Any intelligence that has the ability to wiretap high-ranking foreign officials will do its best to keep it alive for as long as possible and not publicly demonstrate its possibilities.

Speaking about the prospects for joint development of defence products of the military-industrial complex of the CSTO countries, it is worth noting that so far only cooperation in the production sphere is noticeable. Some manufacturers act as contractors for the final manufacturer of the product, as a rule, the Russian military-industrial complex. The practice of creating assembly plants has been developed to a lesser extent, technology transfer has been even less developed. Joint developments of the CSTO countries are of a single nature and are mainly carried out within the framework of the Belarusian-Russian scientific and technical programs.

An attempt of the authorities to involve cultural workers, libraries and clubs in the fight against protests is evidence of the massive dissatisfaction of the Belarusians with the ruling regime even in the provinces. The authorities are trying to use the Soviet system of total control and indoctrination/intimidation of the population. At the same time, they are not confused by the simple fact that this system did not work in the 80s under the conditions of a much more stable communist regime in the USSR and the lack of technical means of instant access to information and its dissemination. In addition, the USSR had a state ideology, which at least did not cause rejection among the majority of the population of the communist empire. The Belarusian regime demonstrates a complete inability to form a certain vision of the future.

It is interesting to note that the purchase of the BTR-82A is expected for mechanized battalions: earlier it was about the possibility of rearming the airborne brigades. Traditionally mechanized battalions are equipped with tracked infantry fighting vehicles, which, although having their drawbacks, seem to be a more preferable option over wheeled armoured personnel carriers. The latter have an advantage over tracked infantry fighting vehicles in terms of mobility due to their higher travel speed and lower operating costs. Due to the first factor, we can expect that the BTR-82A will enter service with the battalions of the rapid reaction forces.

It is worth recalling that the Ministry of Defence of Belarus previously planned to receive the Su-30SM at a rate of 4 vehicles per year. The first fighters were handed over a year ago. In 2020, there will be no new supply: the crisis in the state budget revenues did not allow the implementation of plans for the import of expensive weapons. Although it was previously reported about plans to increase military spending in 2021 by 31% at once, this is unlikely to fundamentally improve the purchasing power of the Belarusian MoD due to the prospect of a devaluation of the national currency. Moreover, against the background of serious economic difficulties and epidemiological conditions, expensive arms purchases may be politically impractical. Thus, the prospects for the purchase of the Su-30 SM next year are in question as well.

In August of this year, it was announced that the net profit of the SMIC organizations increased by 1.5 times. Obviously, in SMIC there are a few super profitable businesses (most likely arms traders), but there are also those that can barely make both ends meet. Moreover, here we are talking about large SMIC companies. There is no other way to explain the rapid growth of creditors’ burden on the SMIC enterprises and the simultaneous growth of profits in the system. The vulnerability of the Belarusian military-industrial complex also lies in the excessive concentration of production: the three largest highly specialized companies provide over 70% of industrial production within the SMIC system (which includes 25 enterprises, of which 22 are manufacturing). In total, 155 organizations in Belarus have licenses for the right to carry out activities related to military products. However, SMIC accounts for at least 90% of the total production of defence products.

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