The most important events of the month. October was marked by the belligerent statements of Aliaksandr Lukashenka against NATO. On October 10, 2019 during the CIS summit in Ashgabat, he expressed dissatisfaction with the large-scale NATO military exercises “Defender Europe 2020” planned near the borders of Belarus and invited Vladimir Putin to jointly respond to this. We devoted a separate material to this event.
Further, on October 22, 2019 Lukashenko instructed State Secretary of the Security Council Stanislau Zas and Secretary of Defence Andrei Raukou to develop a response plan for temporary deployment in Lithuania of the US Army battalion.
At the same time, the Kremlin preferred to ignore the militancy of Minsk.
Therefore, after less than a week, on October 28, 2019 Lukashenka radically changed the tone of his statements. During the meeting with Stanislau Zas, Andrei Raukou and the head of the army military intelligence, Pavel Tikhanau, dedicated to that same response plan, it was stated that the threat from the deployment of American troops in Lithuania and the upcoming NATO exercises is not so significant. Although it is necessary to respond to this, but without involving Russia: the Belarusian army has enough forces and means to respond even much greater challenges. “… We can protect us on our own” – said the Belarusian ruler. At the same time, he expressed harsh criticism against Lithuania, whose authorities were presented as guilty in the whole situation.
In response to NATO’s activity the following measures were proposed: arms control measures, sending inspection teams to neighbouring countries, strengthening intelligence and protecting the state border, temporarily increasing the number of ground forces in direction of Lithuania, carrying out planned and additional combat training activities (including joint armies and border guards) as well as informational and diplomatic measures. Also, a joint intelligence with Russia in connection with the NATO exercises will be organized. Obviously, we are talking about the temporary deployment of Russian reconnaissance aircraft Tu-214R and/or Il-20 at Belarusian airfields. It is very likely that this has been mentioned in the plans for bilateral cooperation for 2020 and in no way is connected with Lukashenka’s angry tirades.
October was marked by previously unobserved public activity of the State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Stanislau Zas. On October 3-4, he was on a visit to Moldova, where he met with President Igor Dodon, the head of the Moldovan parliament Zinaida Greceanii, the heads of several ministries and departments of Moldova as well as the secretary of the Supreme Security Council of this country Viktor Gaychuk. They discussed issues of regional and international security, as well as pressing issues of bilateral cooperation. A plan of interaction between the apparatuses of the security councils of the two countries for 2020-2021 was signed.
On October 9, 2019 Mr. Zas met with Russian Ambassador Dmitry Mezentsev. The issues of international and regional security, as well as bilateral interaction, were discussed. The specific results of the meeting were not disclosed.
On October 29, 2019, Stanislau Zas met with US Chargé d’Affaires in Belarus, Jennifer Moore. During the meeting the parties discussed the deployment of the US military in Lithuania. The Belarusian official was informed about the plans for the US soldiers to be in the neighbouring country and the timing of their return to their places of permanent deployment. There was additional information about the intent of the NATO exercise “Defender Europe 2020,” which will be accompanied by a large-scale transfer of American troops and equipment to Europe.
Following the meeting, Mr. Zas said that the Belarus’ concern was caused by a lack of information and trust regarding NATO’s military activity at its borders. The solution is seen in expanding communication (in this case, between Belarus and the USA). Minsk is interested in reducing military-political tension in Europe. The parties intend to continue the dialogue in the field of arms control and strengthening confidence and security measures.
Also, Stanislau Zas made it clear that Minsk does not intend to further promote the theme of the threat from the military activity of the Alliance. A sharp decline in interest in the issue from the Belarusian state propaganda can indirectly state, that the issue has been settled.
On October 31, 2019, on the initiative of the European Commission, Stanislau Zas met the Deputy Director General of the European Commission for Neighbourhood Issues and EU Enlargement Negotiations, Maciej Popowski. They touched on issues of international and regional security, as well as Belarusian-European cooperation (coordination of the Priorities of the partnership, the beginning of negotiations on a basic agreement between Belarus and the EU, cooperation in the field of border management, security, migration, lifting EU sanctions against Minsk). The parties discussed promising areas for further cooperation in the field of security.
The developments within the month. On October 2, 2019 Defence Minister of Belarus Andrei Raukou announced the transfer to Belarus of the first four Russian Su-30SM fighters in November according to the agreement of 2017. Previously, the main problem was the lack of funding. But now it has been solved. The first two aircraft arrived in Belarus on November 13, 2019.
On October 3, 2019 a working meeting of the heads of the border services of Belarus and Latvia took place. Among other things, the parties discussed the issues related to the implementation of joint projects of international technical assistance in order to increase the efficiency of protection of the joint border section.
On October 4, 2019 Lukashenka during negotiations with President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky proposed cooperation in military rocket science. Belarus is interested in the transfer of missile technologies from Ukraine, which will accelerate the implementation of Belarusian missile ambitions. But the refusal of Kiev will not become an insurmountable obstacle: it just will take more time and money.
The meeting was preceded by an exchange of persons accused/convicted of espionage: Yury Palityka returned to Belarus, Pavel Sharoyko returned to Ukraine. Earlier, Belarus announced its readiness to conduct an exchange as part of the “espionage case”, but claimed that the exvahnge was foiled by the fault of the Ukraine in 2017.
We note Lukashenka’s statement that external forces are not interested in excessively close cooperation between Belarus and Ukraine. He further said: “We must be strong”.
On October 7-9, Minsk hosted the 2nd meeting of the Joint Belarus-Bangladesh Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation. During the Commission meeting, the results of interaction were examined and priority areas for further bilateral cooperation were identified. The Bangladeshi delegation visited a number of organizations of the State Military Industrial Committee (SMIC) system, where they got acquainted with the capabilities and potential of Belarusian military industry. The guests expressed interest in the repair and modernization of aircraft and air defence equipment as well as in training of military-technical specialists.
At the same time, the SMIC Chairman Raman Halouchanka visited the United Arab Emirates, where the 10th meeting of the Joint Belarus-Emirate Committee on Military-Technical Cooperation was held. The directions of bilateral cooperation were discussed. Mr. Halouchanka held working meetings with the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the UAE, Lieutenant General Hamad Mohammed Tani al-Rumeisi; with the commander of the Air Force and Air Defence of the UAE, Major General Ibrahim Nasser al-Alawi; with the chief of the rear of the General Staff of the UAE Army, Major General Khalaf al-Kubaisi; with the executive director of the holding “EDGE” Faisal al-Bannai.
On October 8-10, the 10th meeting of the Sub-Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation of the Intergovernmental Belarus-Kazakhstan Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation was held. The event was attended by representatives of defence industry enterprises. Among other things, issues of mutual supplies of defence products, joint production, as well as the localization of certain types of products in Kazakhstan and Belarus were discussed. The parties reached an agreement on the practical implementation in Kazakhstan of joint projects for the localization of repair production and maintenance of aircraft, radar systems, as well as anti-UAV systems. Following the meeting, the parties decided to study the issue of expanding the powers of the Sub-Commission and the creation of an intergovernmental Belarus-Kazakhstan commission on military-technical cooperation.
On October 17, 2019 Minsk hosted the 82nd meeting of the Council of Commanders of the Border Troops of the CIS countries. They discussed the situation at the external borders of the Commonwealth states, as well as the results of cooperation and its promising directions for the next year.
Speaking at the event, Secretary of State Security Council of Belarus Stanislau Zas expressed dissatisfaction with the introduction of border controls by Russia on the border with Belarus and the restriction of the movement of third-country nationals. In this regard, Minsk does not exclude the revision of the Belarusian-Russian agreement on the protection of the external border of 1995.
Mr. Zas noted a decrease in the flow of illegal migration from the states of Asia, Africa, Latin America to the EU (235 illegal immigrants were detained this year compared to 545 in 2018). In 2018, 28 persons involved in illegal armed groups and extremist / terrorist organizations were identified, and this year — 20. In 2019, 1,600 kg of drugs were already seized at the border.
On October 25, 2019 a meeting of the joint board of the ministries of defence of Belarus and Russia was held. The event is traditional. The heads of defence ministries of the two countries discussed the results and outlined plans for cooperation in the field of defence. A number of documents were signed and approved: on the exchange of geospatial information, the plan for bilateral cooperation for 2020, the work plan of the joint board for 2020. The parties decided to amend the plan for the use of the regional grouping of troops of the two countries: a charter on the principles for its application was approved and put into effect. The steps to develop an electronic warfare and air defence system were agreed on.
On October 29, 2019, Lukashenka chaired a meeting on countering the spread of drugs and drug abuse prevention. During the event, the Belarusian ruler stated that:
— there is no reason to ease the pressure on the drug business;
— the problem is the use of the Internet for the distribution of drugs;
— the main attention should be paid to bringing to responsibility the leaders of organized groups and wholesale links of drug trafficking, including those located abroad;
— it is necessary to increase the effectiveness of the rehabilitation and resocialization of persons released from prisons;
— the results of work on the prevention of drug trafficking and drug addiction are unsatisfactory.
The same day, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Yury Karaeu, said that law enforcement officers are focused specifically on the fight against organized groups and wholesale links of drug trafficking. At the same time, the pressure on small marketers is not weakening. Internet intelligence units to counter the online spread of drugs will be strengthened.
From October 29 to November 2 in Havana, the 7th meeting of the Joint Belarus-Cuban Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation was held. The parties discussed the results and promising cooperation projects. The Belarusian delegation held meetings with the Cuban military leadership, visited a number of enterprises of the military-industrial complex of Cuba.
On October 30, 2019 a Plan of practical cooperation between the State Border Committee of Belarus and FRONTEX was signed. It is planned to update the practical areas of cooperation between the parties.
On October 30-31, the annual operational meeting of the command of the Armed Forces was held. The main purpose of the event was uniformity in the training of officers of the military command and control bodies and forces, as well as in the organization of daily army activities in the new training year.
Participants in the operational gathering got acquainted with new/modernized models of weapons, military and special equipment, as well as the prospects for the development of weapons systems.
Also, the participants of the meeting were explained:
— main trends in the development of the military-political situation in the region;
— socio-political situation in Belarus and its influence on the army.
The event ended with a board of the Ministry of Defence, which summed up the training of the army and set tasks for the new training year.
On October 31, 2019 Aliaksandr Lukashenka conducted a rotation of the leaders of the Investigative Committee in most regions and Minsk. This step was taken in order to prevent corruption and merge investigation leaders with local bureaucratic elites and business. Obviously, Lukashenka has grounds for such concerns.
The same day, a working meeting of the heads of the border agencies of Belarus and Poland took place in Warsaw. Topical issues of border security were discussed. The situation at the border is recognized as stable and controlled. The parties intend to combat illegal migration and smuggling. Over the 9 months of this year, the Belarusian border guards detained 140 illegal migrants on a common border section, identified 25 attempts to import into Belarus narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances weighing more than 214 kg. The issues of attracting EU resources for the needs of strengthening security on the Belarusian-Polish border were discussed as well.
October has traditionally become the month of large-scale combat training events within the framework of a single concept of the CSTO operational-strategic exercises “Combat Brotherhood — 2019”.
On October 8-10, a special training of the units of material and technical support of the armies of the Collective Security Treaty Organization “Echelon-2019” was held in Russia. 900 troops with more than 250 pieces of equipment trained the organization of material and technical support for the Collective Rapid Reaction Force of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO CRRF) during a joint operation to localize an armed conflict (including the procedure for crossing the state border, loading weapons and equipment onto railway transport, provision of ammunition and other materiel in the course of hostilities, maintenance and repair of weapons and military equipment).
On October 14-18, a search exercise “Search-2019” was held at four training grounds on the territory of Belarus. According to the legend of the exercise, the troops localized the border armed conflict in Eastern Europe. The organizing, managing and conducting reconnaissance as well as improving the interoperability of reconnaissance units of the armies of CSTO member-states have been trained. Some of the events took place in the dark. It involved about 2,000 troops and over 250 pieces of equipment, including aircraft, armoured vehicles and automotive equipment. In addition to the units that are part of the CSTO CRRF, the exercise involved the military, special, electronic, air, engineering, artillery, radiation, chemical and biological intelligence units, combined arms units, aviation, missile troops and artillery from the Belarusian army, as well as troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Ministry of Emergencies of Belarus.
During the “Search-2019”, the involved forces:
— served at checkpoints;
— the military and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus solved the tasks of protecting a settlement and an object of increased danger, blocking and freeing a settlement and separate buildings captured by the enemy;
— organized a filtration point, the withdrawal of civilians from the war zone and the delivery of humanitarian aid there;
— protected transport columns;
— cooperated with aviation and artillery;
— reacted to the use of artisanal poisonous substances as weapons (the clear experience of Syria and Iraq) and eliminated the consequences of the use of such substances;
— organized medical evacuation with the use of helicopters.
On October 16-18, exercises of the CSTO CRRF “Interaction-2019” on the territory of Russia were held. They involved about 300 units of weapons and equipment and over 3,000 troops. Units from the 103rd brigade of the Special Operations Forces, the 927th centre for the preparation and use of unmanned aerial systems, the Ministry of Emergencies and the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA IT) represented Belarus. The planning, preparing and conducting a joint operation to localize the border armed conflict in Eastern Europe have been worked out. The practical part of the exercise included the detection and defeat of illegal armed groups, landing in various ways, conducting assault operations, interaction with aviation and UAVs. The border agencies of the CSTO member states participated in this part. The Belarusian contingent worked out the search for the enemy, blocking it in the village and destroying it in cooperation with the unit of the Belarusian Interior Ministry. And then, together with the Russian contingent, the restoring control over a section of the border was trained.
The “Combat Brotherhood” ended with the “Unbreakable Brotherhood-2019” exercise, which took place on the territory of Tajikistan. Belarus was represented by the peacekeeping company of the 103rd brigade, as well as MIA IT representatives. Formally, the event was dedicated to conducting a peacekeeping operation in the Central Asian region. The venue was located 20 km from the border with Afghanistan. The patrolling of the terrain, the organization of service at checkpoints, escorting convoys, blocking a settlement, the destruction of combat UAV by anti-aircraft artillery and countering riots was trained.
In October, a series of army combat trainings took place.
A bilateral command and staff exercise with the 6th and 11th mechanized brigades took place. The troops trained the fortification of the lines, their camouflage, the protection and defence of command posts and important military facilities, counteraction to reconnaissance and sabotage groups, military operations control.
On October 7-11, large-scale exercises with units of the 5th Special Operation Forces Brigade were held on the territory of the Mahilioú and Homiel regions. The issues trained included operational delivery of Special Operation Forces to the areas of missions, methods of landing from a military transport aircraft and helicopters in various weather conditions and at different times of the day, reconnaissance to detect the enemy using including and UAVs, capture/liberation of an object (aerodrome). The brigade command system was checked when its units performed tasks on a large territory in isolation from the main forces.
On October 21-25, the battalion tactical training of the 38th Airborne Assault Brigade of the Army of Belarus and the 106th Division of the Airborne Forces of Russia took place. It involved about 900 military personnel, as well as about 250 units of equipment, more than a dozen units of military transport aviation in Belarus and Russia. The issues of searching, blocking and destroying sabotage and reconnaissance groups, conducting reconnaissance operations in the rear of a conditional enemy have been trained. The paratrooper divisions were reinforced by artillery, military engineers, and others. The landing of personnel and equipment by Il-76 aircraft was trained. The landing was covered by combat training aircraft Yak-130, which attacked ground targets. More than 50 armoured vehicles crossed the water barrier.
In October, the ability of the Air Force and Air Defence Forces to perform their mission was tested. The event involved aviators, units of anti-aircraft missile troops and radioengineering troops.
Last month, large-scale exercises of the Ministry of Internal Affairs were held. On October 2-3, the “Volcano-2019” exercise to suppress riots in a settlement was held.
Further, on October 7-9, in the Homiel region, two MIA IT brigades trained the counter-terrorist operation during the “Thunderstorm-2019” exercise. The role of opponents was performed by the soldiers of the Army Special Operations Forces and MIA IT Special Forces.
In the Hrodna region, a training on issues of territorial defence was held. During the event, samples of military equipment of the territorial troops (TT) were demonstrated: 82-mm mortar 2B9 “Vasilek”, 100-mm anti-tank gun MT-12 “Rapira” and anti-tank missile system 9K115 “Metis”.
In October, the Minsk region Prosecutor’s Office held a preventive conversation with the military personnel of the Central Air Defence Command on compliance with the law on military service procedures, the fight against corruption and the prevention of offenses in the army. It is necessary to emphasize that here we talk not about an ordinary military unit, but about one of the important centres of the military command of the country.
Conclusions. The October militant statements of Aliaksandr Lukashenka were intended to attract the attention of Russia, to show Belarus as a reliable military-political partner of the Kremlin in order get additional trump cards in negotiations with Moscow on issues not related to defence. But the reaction of Russia has shown that official Minsk is losing almost its last usual lever of influence on the Kremlin — security issues. The Russian authorities did not want to mix security cooperation and bilateral relations in the political and economic fields. The era of “security bargaining” ends for Belarus. It is required to find new leverage on Russia to defend own interests. There are such opportunities, but only the time will tell, whether the Belarusian authorities are able to use them.
For a long time, the Belarusian authorities have been striving to develop a bilateral dialogue with NATO on security issues, as well as a military-political dialogue with Ukraine. There are no breakthroughs in these areas. There is an opinion in Minsk that this is largely due to the unconstructive position of official Vilnius, which is blocking dialogue with the Alliance and is trying to unfairly manipulate the military leaders of Ukraine.
The post of the Secretary of State of the Security Council of Belarus did not previously imply publicity. As far as we know, his meetings with foreign diplomats were possible only in exceptional cases. In addition, the October meetings of Stanislau Zas with foreign officials touched on issues within the competence of the Foreign Ministry. It is still unclear whether Mr. Zas’ entry into the public political field is a special case and his preparation for the post of CSTO Secretary General, or is it a sign of a trend change when Lukashenka’s dominance in the information field will gradually be “diluted” with other senior officials. The latter can be a reaction to the tiredness of society from the Belarusian ruler, who acts as a newsmaker on most socially significant issues. At the same time, he has not brought good news lately. The idea may consist in ministers talking about problems, taking on a negative reaction, while Lukashenka will report on achievements.
There is no clarity about the sources of financing the purchase of the Su-30SM: either it is the Belarusian budget, or it is a kind of supply chain with Russian support (credit, leasing or military-technical assistance). Known parameters of the military budget for the current year do not contain the possibility of allocating about USD 200 million for the purchase of the fighters. The issue can be clarified following the approval of the 2019 Budget Execution Act, which will only be available in mid-2020. In the meantime, it seems that there is some form of Russian financial support for the supply of Su-30SM to Belarus. Statements that the Ministry of Defence have accumulated money for these purposes for a long time are quite doubtful. Even for the purchase of 4 aircraft, it would be necessary to reserve about 10-12% of the budget of the Ministry of Defence during 2017-2019, which is problematic due to the scarcity of defence funding.
Official Minsk considers Vladimir Zelensky as an inexperienced politician and wants to establish a kind of “guardianship” of him in terms of relations with the Kremlin, taking advantage of the moment to gain access to military technology, which was denied by the former Ukrainian authorities. The fears that unique Ukrainian developments through Belarus will be transferred to Russia are groundless. Firstly, Minsk is interested in a rather limited list of Ukrainian defence products. Which, by the way, Ukraine is actively offering on the international market. Secondly, hardly the technologies and products Belarus needs are critical for Russia.
Belarus is already carrying out repair/modernization work on the MiG-29 fighter of Bangladesh Air Force. But the number of these aircraft is small. The Belarusian military-industrial complex is interested in cooperation in the field of repair of Mi helicopters, several dozens of which are used in Bangladesh.
Note that officially in the UAE the creation of the military-industrial holding “EDGE” was announced only in early November, i.e. almost a month after the visit of Raman Halouchanka. One of the priorities of the holding will be artificial intelligence. Faisal al-Bannai himself has extensive experience in managing a business in the field of information technology, including cybersecurity. Earlier, Mr. Halouchanka said it was important for Belarus to develop its own military computer programs. SMIC is making some efforts to build capacity in the field of cybersecurity as a promising area of activity.
The defence industry of Kazakhstan has competencies that are interesting for Belarus. In particular, we are talking about the production of heavy machine guns and barrels for them, as well as components of ballistic missiles.
It is interesting to note that during the joint meeting of the Belarusian and Russian defence ministries, the Belarusian side expressed concern about the degradation of security mechanisms in Europe in general, avoiding specific accusations. The Russian directly made the West responsible for exacerbating the situation in the region. Belarus still does not intend to get involved in the confrontation between Moscow and the West.
The amendment/termination of the agreement between Belarus and Russia on joint efforts to protect the border of Belarus from 1995 is connected with its loss of relevance. The termination of this document will not affect the state of border security of Belarus. Another thing is that official Minsk is trying to use this situation to put pressure on Moscow. But a positive result for the Belarus is unlikely here.
The Belarusian military-industrial complex may be somehow interested in Cuba’s experience in integrating air-to-air missiles in the armament complex of short-range anti-aircraft missile systems, the conversion of obsolete armoured vehicles into engineering support vehicles and their use as a chassis of artillery systems of various calibres. In turn, Cuba may be interested in repair and modernization of aircraft, radar and anti-aircraft weapons.
According to the results of the October meeting on countering the spread of drugs, in the foreseeable future there is no reason to expect a mitigation of punishment for the illegal drug trafficking. However, it is possible that the Supreme Court will move away from a broad interpretation of drug trafficking, when even shared consumption entails increased criminal liability.
It should be noted that the scenario of the October CSTO exercise “Unbreakable Brotherhood-2019” “accidentally” coincides with the situation in the Donbass: the separation of the conflicting parties with the withdrawal of heavy equipment and artillery outside the firing range zone. After that, the CSTO CRRF is introduced into the separation zone.
Other combat training activities of the CSTO CRRF under the “Combat Brotherhood”, although formally declared anti-terrorist, in fact had a limited interstate conflict in the basis of the scenario. According to the scenario, a significant part of the hostilities was conducted in an urban industrial area.
Speaking about the exercises with the 5th Special Operation Forces Brigade, the scenario can equally be considered both defensive (search and destruction of enemy forces on their own territory) and offensive (capture of important enemy targets and destruction of their units in isolation from their own forces). In general, it is worth remembering that the SOF are “offensive” and strike weapon.
It is highly probable that within the framework of the MIA IT exercise “Thunderstorm”, it was 5th SOF Brigade that performed the role of the opponents.
The October training on territorial defence in the Hrodna region indirectly confirm our assumption about the formation of artillery units as part of TT at the level of regions (territorial defence zones). The next step could be the integration of TT battalions into larger units. Earlier, we devoted separate material to this issue.