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

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The most important events of the month. Throughout October, the regime unleashed a narrative on “radicalized protest”. MIA officers became one of the target audiences. Allegedly, the protesters are already threatening to kill the children of the police officers. Naturally, no evidence is provided to support this.

An interview with the former Minister of Internal Affairs of Belarus Yury Karaeu, in which he raised the issue of the use of weapons and special equipment by the police, became a mini-sensation of October. This part of the interview attracted the most attention. Although, in reality, the important thing was different: the ex-minister admitted that police officers in the regions of Belarus, who directly work with the people, are often reluctant to use violence against the protesters. As a result, they have to be literally persuaded and intimidated by the fact that in the event of the collapse of the ruling regime, the police officers themselves and their families will be in danger.

Recently, there have been more and more signs that ordinary security officers are trying to evade participation in punitive actions. When they have to act, they try to act formally and don’t show any zeal. This is not a sign of support for the protest. As a result of its massiveness and duration, more and more officials and security officials would like to remain neutral and sit on the sidelines in order to later join the winner. These people have no value orientation either in favour of dictatorship or in favour of democracy. They think primarily about their own benefit.

The constant statements about the radicalization of the protesters, on the one hand, are aimed at intimidating the state apparatus and its consolidation around Lukashenka, on the other, they are part of a propaganda campaign to discredit the protest in the eyes of neutral groups of the population and an attempt to provoke a split among the protesters.

In general, the punitive system is overstressed. The striking fist of the regime on the streets is about 5,000 people. But the protesters themselves do not use serious violence against the punishers, i.e. there is no decline in the ranks of the latter. But the question of the influence of the Covid-19 epidemic regime on the punitive apparatus is still open. There is information that the virus is spreading among law enforcement officers, affecting, among other things, the command. Which, given the specifics of their activity, is expected.

The developments within the month. In Mazyr district from September 28 to October 16, exercises on territorial defence were held. The headquarters of the territorial defence area and a battalion of territorial troops were formed. More than 120 people were called up for military training. The interaction of territorial troops and the police, the protection and defence of facilities, the fight against illegal armed formations, and more have been trained. The exercise with the heads of the territorial defence areas (chairmen of the district executive committees) of Homiel region on the organization and management of the territorial defence forces: the deployment of command and observation posts of territorial troops, the organization of defence of individual objects, the fight against saboteurs. The event should not be viewed in the light of the current political crisis in Belarus or Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Exercises of a similar format are held on a regular basis in various regions of the country.

On October 12-16, Belarus hosted a planned exercise of the Collective Peacekeeping Forces (hereinafter referred to as the CPF) of the CSTO “Indestructible Brotherhood-2020”. A Joint Headquarters, responsible for planning a peacekeeping operation in an imaginary country, was created. The issues of organizing and conducting a peacekeeping operation have been trained. In addition to the military personnel of the CPF, police forces and rescue units with a total number of more than 900 people and over 120 pieces of equipment, including helicopters and UAVs, were involved.

The Belarusian military declared that the exercise is a strategic deterrence measure, transparently hinting that NATO should be deterred.

The exercise was divided into two stages. At the first one, preparations were made for the CSTO peacekeeping operation, which was carried out in accordance with the conditional UN mandate.

At the second one, practical actions during the peacekeeping operation were trained:

— control over the observance of the ceasefire agreement;

— assistance to the population of the conflict zone;

— control over the movement of goods;

— countering mass riots;

— provision of first aid;

— patrolling the area and the work of checkpoints;

— escort of automobile columns;

— building bridges over water obstacles;

— conducting engineering reconnaissance, including countering improvised explosive devices;

— delivery of goods by helicopters;

— liberation of the captured settlement, release of hostages.

A feature of the exercises was the organization of a group to study the organization of logistics and ensure the actions of the CSTO CPF. For the first time, a Peacekeeping Mission, which should determine the causes of the conflict and suggest ways to resolve them, was formed as well.

On October 22, 2020, a joint board of the State Security Committee (SSC) of Belarus and the Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia was held. During the event the results and prospects of cooperation between the special services were discussed.

It is interesting to note that the director of the Russian secret service has joined the chorus of voices of Russian officials in support of constitutional reform in Belarus as a mechanism to overcome the current political crisis. At the same time, Sergei Naryshkin described the popular protests in Belarus as “… questions that society or a part of society poses to the current government”. At the same the traditional statements about outside interference in the internal affairs of Belarus and Russia were made as well.

On October 27, 2020, the annual meeting of the Ministries of Defence of Belarus and Russia was held (via videoconference). The political situation in the region was described in anti-Western tones: the buildup of NATO military presence, Sergei Shoigu’s statement about Western interference in the internal affairs of Belarus and an attempt to change the government in the country “… in order to disrupt the integration process within the framework of the “union state”, to split the Russian-Belarusian relations”; the statement of the Belarusian Defence Minister Viktar Khrenin about the attempt of a number of countries to organize a color revolution and conduct a hybrid war against Minsk. As a result of the meeting, a number of documents of bilateral military cooperation, including within the framework of the Unified Regional Air Defence System, were signed. Nothing is reported about the fate of the military doctrine of the so-called “union state” of Belarus and Russia from 2018, which had already been approved by Vladimir Putin.

On October 28, 2020, an operational exercise of the Armed Forces command began under the command of the Belarusian Defence Minister. The event is planned and is held with the aim of organizing the Army’s activities in the new academic year. It is planned to study the problematic issues of training and daily activities of troops identified during the academic year, and options for their solution. The approaches for the new academic year should also be explained to the exercise participants.

On October 29, 2020, under the chairmanship of the State Military Industry Committee (SMIC) head Dzmitry Pantus, a meeting of the SMIC board was held. We have to admit that difficult times have come for the Belarusian defence industry. Moreover, Covid-19 only aggravated the previously encountered problems. We have devoted a special article to this topic.

On the same day Lukashenka made personnel decisions in the security services. State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Valery Vakulchyk, Interior Minister Yury Karaeu and his deputy Aliaksandr Barsukou were assigned to new positions. At the same time, the significance of what is happening goes beyond ensuring the security of the state and directly affects the issues of the country’s political and power system.

Further, Lukashenka puzzled the public with a statement about the prospects for the formation of some squads from retired security officials and, if necessary, arming them. We described the reasons for such measures and the likelihood of implementing this idea in a special article.

The former head of the Minsk police, Ivan Kubrakou, was appointed the new head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. October 30, 2020 Lukashenka presented Kubrakou to the command of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. He made a number of statements:

— the new appointments of generals are part of the reorganization of the country’s governing system by strengthening the management structure by the security forces, who must perform the functions of control and selection of personnel in the state apparatus;

— the main task is to ensure “order and discipline” in the regions (in normal language this means suppressing the protests and ensuring the unquestioning obedience of the bureaucracy);

— it is planned to toughen the legislation for a more severe punishment of the dissatisfied;

— he called the protests a riot and said that the authorities will not “play games” with the protesters. He especially mentioned the workers and students;

— he asked the police not to betray him (Lukashenka);

— Minsk plans to continue to pursue a multi-vector foreign policy, although some do not like this (a transparent allusion to Moscow). Belarus is interested in cooperation with the West;

— Belarus will never be against Russia, but only if Moscow continues to support official Minsk;

— he again said that the war begins with internal destabilization.

The prosecutor’s office is increasingly acquiring a punitive-political function, being directly involved in activities to forestall popular protests:

— meeting with students and professors of the Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics, the Prosecutor General of Belarus Andrei Shved warned those present about the adverse consequences for the protesters;

— speaking to the officers of the military commissariats of the Minsk region, the representative of the prosecutor’s office, along with the issues of combating corruption and crimes against the interests of the service, touched upon the topic of responsibility for organizing and participating in mass events unauthorized by the authorities;

— during a planned coordination meeting on the fight against crime and corruption, the prosecutor of the Brest region Viktar Klimau named the identification of organizers of mass protest actions as a priority task for the regional security services;

— calls to refuse to participate in protest actions can be also heard during the speeches of prosecutors at enterprises;

— during preventive measures in military units to prevent offenses, prosecutors warn servicemen about responsibility for participating in unauthorized protests.

In October, it was announced that the Army plans to further equip Air Force with Su-30SM aircraft and Mi-35 helicopters. The radar stations “Protivnik”, “Sopka”, “Vostok”, “Nebosklon”, the “Rosa-RB (M)” radar system and the “Tor-M2” anti-aircraft missile system will be delivered as well. The scale and timing of deliveries of this equipment is not reported (it is likely that we are talking about the horizon until 2025). It was also reported that over the past five years, specialists from the military-industrial complex have overhauled more than 160 pieces of equipment and modernized more than 100 (including tanks to the level of T-72BM1 and BTR-70 to the level of BTR-70MB1). The vehicle fleet is being replaced: units of the Special Operations Forces have already been almost completely re-equipped with Belarusian vehicles.

It is necessary to underline the following notable events of the Army’s combat training in October:

— the traditional exercise of Belarusian anti-aircraft troops at the Russian training ground Ashuluk, during which, among other things, the repulse of a massive missile and air strike was practiced;

— conscription from the reserve of about 200 people for exercises as part of a rocket artillery battalion;

— about 50 more people were called up for military training to participate in the exercises of the electronic warfare forces.

Conclusions. Speaking about the CSTO exercise “Indestructible Brotherhood-2020”, one should pay attention to two points:

— the number of troops representing the participating countries is not reported;

— earlier this exercise was conducted within the framework of the general strategic CSTO exercise “Combat Brotherhood”, which is a series of exercises (four conducted in different CSTO countries) within the framework of a single plan.

Obviously, Covid-19 has had its impact on the military training activities of the armies of the CSTO countries. As a result, part of the exercises within the “Combat Brotherhood” framework was postponed by the host parties to other dates (only in August, at the time of the recession of the epidemic in Russia, the exercise “Echelon-2020” was held).

Sergei Naryshkin’s statements regarding the constitutional reform in Belarus should be perceived taking into account his status in the Russian hierarchy. He is Putin’s colleague in the USSR KGB and belongs to those Russian officials whom the Kremlin “does not recommend” to criticize in the media. At the same time, Naryshkin is practically the only Kremlin official who shows sympathy for Lukashenka. Although it cannot be ruled out that this is a role of a “good cop”. Throughout October Moscow at the highest level supported the idea of ​​constitutional reform in Belarus in the information field. Vladimir Putin said that this is the best way to resolve the Belarusian political crisis, and those Belarusian security officials who allow exceeding the limits of the use of violence should be punished for this. In addition, on the air of the NTV channel owned by Gazprom, it was announced that Lukashenka had repeatedly deceived Russia and further assistance from Moscow would be conditional on Lukashenka’s fulfilling his promise (allegedly given to Putin in September in Sochi) to hold constitutional reform and presidential elections in January — February 2021. Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said that Russia is building relations with the people of Belarus, and not with the government in Minsk. In whole, this is a permanent formula of Russian foreign policy. But in the current political context, it is perceived in a new way by the Belarusian establishment.

Thus, Moscow avoids unequivocal support for Lukashenka, but also does not launch a propaganda campaign against him. Probably for the reason that the Kremlin has not fully formed its strategy in the Belarusian direction and is waiting for proposals from interested parties (what they are ready to offer Russia for its support).

The involvement into direct opposition to the protests of state bodies, which were not previously noticed in such activity, testifies to the fact that the mass character of popular demonstrations (despite their peaceful nature) is perceived by the regime as a direct and unequivocal threat. The task is to reduce the human base of protest actions both through exhortations and through threats and reprisals. In previous political crises, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and special services coped with such tasks. The activation of the prosecutor’s office may be associated with Lukashenka’s discontent with the results of the activities of traditional subjects of political repression. Actually, after taking office as the Prosecutor General of Belarus last month, Andrei Shved publicly promised to mobilize and force the responsible state structures to intensify their activities to suppress popular protests.

Speaking about the prospects for rearmament of the Army, one should take into account the factor of falling budget revenues against the background of rising costs (in connection with the Covid-19 epidemic, the need to support the economy and ensure loyalty to the regime of large groups of the population through at least a minimal increase in their income (pensioners and public sector workers). Until now, there is no information on the timing of the delivery of the second batch of Su-30SM fighters (USD 140-200 million), as well as on the prospects for the execution of contracts for the current year for the supply of Mi-35 helicopters and BTR-82 (approximately up to USD 100 million). In addition to financial factors, the purchase of new weapons for the Army may run into a political one: in conditions of stagnation of the economy and the actual drop in incomes of large groups of the population, such expenses will cause public discontent.

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