Situation in the field of national security and defence of Belarus (September 2017)

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The most important events of the month. The main event of September was one that never happened: contrary to the tradition, there was no meeting between the leaders of Belarus and Russia during the “West-2017”. Aliaksandr Lukashenka wasn’t invited to observe the Russian part of the exercises. While Vladimir Putin simply ignored the invitation to visit the Belarusian polygons. Just like Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu and the chief of the General Staff of the Russian Army Valery Gerasimov. The latter two were expected in Minsk almost up to the last moment.

The developments within the month. September began with the traditional exercise on air defence of the CIS countries “Combat Commonwealth – 2017”. Yak-130 of the Belarusian Air Force took part in it for the first time. Five Belarusian aircraft not only practiced bombing at the Astrakhan training ground (Russia), but also participated in the episode of the exercise in Tajikistan. Yak-130 were assigned to the category of assault aircraft on a par with the Su-25. It is interesting to note that the Belarusian sources do not inform about the Tajik episode of the exercise.

Within the framework of the “Combat Commonwealth-2017” exercise, the servicemen of Belarus, Russia, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan worked out the issues of organizing the joint usage of the coalition groups of aviation and air defence troops of the CIS countries in order to repulse a massive missile and air strike, to overcome the air defence system of the conventional enemy, to practice manoeuvring in air combat and striking ground targets. More than 2 thousand servicemen from Russia (1.2 thousand people), Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia took part in the “Combat Commonwealth-2017”.

At the same time, the 47th Coordination Committee for Air Defence under the Council of CIS Defence Ministers was held in Astrakhan. The issues of the development of the joint air defence system of the Commonwealth countries were discussed.

On September 14-20, the traditional Belarusian-Russian strategic exercise “West-2017” took place. This year the event took place against the background of amid fears (at times similar to hysteria) that it will become a prologue to the next security crisis in Eastern Europe. “West-2017” was based on the scenario of an interstate armed conflict or a local war. This is evidenced by episodes of exercises involving the use of air defence. Thus, the Airborne Forces of Russia conditionally destroyed more than 40 high-speed UAVs of the conventional enemy, including barrage ammunition. Aviation of the Western Military District of Russia worked out a repel of the air attack, destroying more than 30 different aerodynamic targets simulating cruise missiles and conventional enemy aircraft. Su-34 bombers destroyed infrastructure facilities, packs of armoured and motor vehicles of the conventional enemy at the training ground in the Leningrad region.

Within the framework of the “West-2017” exercise, the military communications troops of Belarus and Russia deployed a 1,000-kilometer-long radio relay link that provided a large amount of information in a protected regime between the field control posts.

The Belarusian paratroopers practiced covering the border and suppressing its violations by the enemy’s armed units.

During “West 2017” in Hlybokae district the issues of organization of territorial defence (protection and defence of Hlybokae and important facilities, maintenance of law and order, prevention of sabotage) were practiced.

The exercise “West-2017” was traditionally used for research purposes in testing new weapon systems. Moreover, judging by the fact that some weapons are tested in different exercises for more than a year, the results obtained are far from desired.

On September 20, 2017, speaking after observing the “West-2017”, President Lukashenka stated the ongoing work on new missile systems and UAVs. At the same time, from the context of the speech it was easy to understand President spoke of combat UAVs.

The staff of the Investigative Committee, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the State Security Committee, the Emergencies Ministry and the State Border Committee participated in the “West-2017” besides the Armed Forces. The investigators worked out the organization of interaction with the army and territorial defence bodies on issues related to the investigation of violations of law.

The scale of involvement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs is evidenced by the fact that representatives of law enforcement bodies of 23 administrative districts and Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs participated in the “West-2017”. Employees and servicemen of the Ministry of Internal Affairs practiced the issues of maintaining martial law, protecting facilities, fighting sabotage, patrolling the terrain, freeing hostages, detecting and neutralizing explosive devices.

The prosecutor’s offices were involved into controlling the exercises. They monitored the situation in the places of temporary deployment of troops at the training grounds of Belarus.

Special attention was paid to the prevention of deaths and injuries of servicemen, violations of the statutory rules of the relationship between them, the rules of driving and operating the machines as well as to observance of the rules for handling weapons and other items of high danger. Preventing loss, destruction and damage of military property as well as environmental pollution was also an important task. This activity began in advance in cooperation with both Belarusian law enforcers and Russian military prosecutors.

Under the pretext of excluding the negative impact of military exercises on the environment, region prosecutors together with territorial inspectorates of natural resources and environmental protection, forestry institutions and local authorities organized supervisory activities in the areas of the redeployment of personnel, equipment and armament as well as loading and unloading grounds.

As predicted, the joint Belarusian-Russian exercise “West-2017” “was lost” in the large-scale military training activities of the Russian army that were conducted during the same period. At the same time, in the information field Russia “included” its internal exercises into the “West-2017”, disorienting external observers. As a result, NATO is considering the “West-2017” in conjunction with all the military training activities of the Russian army that were conducted during this period of time. At the same time, the Alliance emphasizes that all exercises were designed to prepare for action “… in the face of a major interstate conflict”. NATO representatives drew attention to the launches of Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles. Which in the West is regarded as the practice of a nuclear attack. In this respect the Belarusian army is seen as a structure included in Russian military activities.

The Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Latvia saw in “West-2017” the practice of isolation of the Baltic region.

“West-2017” caused a certain tension between the defence departments of Belarus and Ukraine. First, the Ukrainian side called the exercises “conditionally open”. Then, the leaders of the Ukrainian army made a statement that not all Russian troops had left the territory of Belarus.

During the “West-2017” Russia undertook a number of provocations aimed at discrediting Belarus as a subject of regional security. So, on the first day of the joint exercises, the exercises of the Russian Airborne Forces started as well. They were demonstratively offensive and were much larger than the Belarusian-Russian “West-2017”. At the same time, the Russian Defence Ministry disseminated information about the deployment to Belarus of a non-existent tank brigade from the Moscow region (source). Then on September 18, 2017 the convoy of activists of the Russian chauvinist organization “National Liberation Movement” (NOD) drove through the centre of Minsk with portraits of Vladimir Putin and Russian symbols. On September 20, 2017 the Russian radicals from NOD appeared in Homel. The provocateurs travelled through half of Belarus without any problems (source).

In response, Belarus did not fail to use the incident at one of the Russian training grounds: the helicopter launched the training missiles at the location of the spectators watching the exercises. As the result, two people were injured. Although Russian Defence Ministry tried to avoid publicity, Belarusian state propaganda contributed to the spread of news about the incident.

On September 14, 2017 in Kazakhstan, the VIII meeting of the Subcommission on military-technical cooperation of the intergovernmental Kazakh-Belarusian commission for trade and economic cooperation was held. The visit of the Belarusian delegation to the defence enterprises “Kazakhstan Paramount Engineering” and “Kazakhstan Aselsan Engineering” is really important. The first enterprise was created jointly with the South African company Paramount Group and specializes in the production of wheeled armoured vehicles. The second one – with the participation of the Turkish company Aselsan, among other things producing secure communications systems, reconnaissance and target designation systems. These products are among the priorities for the Belarusian military industry.

On September 26, 2017 Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makei said that security issues are one of the most important for Belarus, since the country does not want to be on the military-political break. Last but not least, this is connected with the negative impact of growing tension in the region on the prospects for economic development. Mr. Makei confirmed that Belarus is interested in a direct dialogue “… with the European Union, with NATO, with members of these structures on all relevant issues”.

On September 27, 2017 President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev received the Secretary of State of the Security Council of Belarus Stanislau Zas. During the meeting, the development of relations between the two countries in all areas, including security and military-technical cooperation, was discussed. Mr. Aliyev expressed interest in further expansion of cooperation, stressing that there are many issues in the security sphere interesting for both Belarus and Azerbaijan.

On September 27-29 the first meeting of the joint working group of the Belarusian-Chinese Coordination Committee for Cooperation in the Field of Arms and Military Equipment was held in Minsk. The Chinese delegation included the president of the Great Wall Corporation Yin Limin.

The results of the work of the State Border Committee of Belarus for the first half of this year were summed up. The border guards seized more than 117 kg of narcotic drugs and psychotropic drugs, 130 weapons and more than a thousand ammunition, 1.7 kg of explosives. 15 organizers and accomplices of illegal migration were detained, 2.3 thousand people, who are forbidden or undesirable to enter Belarus, were identified. Every second offender of border legislation is a Belarusian. For violation of the rules of entry and stay in the border zone and strip, at checkpoints, crossing the state border, more than 1.3 thousand people were brought to justice.

Conclusions. The “West-2017” exercise was another demonstration of the crisis of the Belarusian-Russian relations. Earlier bilateral contradictions were largely mitigated by the factor of good personal relations between Aliaksandr Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin. It is obvious that the relations between the leaders of the two countries have worsened. This is not the best news for interstate relations, taking into account the specifics of political regimes in Belarus and Russia.

Obviously, a step-by-step replacement of Soviet Su-25 aircraft by new Russian Yak-130 in the modification of the attack aircraft was chosen by Belarus. The Russian military-industrial complex has started to create a new radar station for the Yak-130 and an opto-electronic sighting and navigation complex. This will allow to use Yak-130 as an attack aircraft and fighter as well as to use high-precision air-to-surface and air-to-air missiles and “medium-range weapons” (source). The aircraft will require finalizing the basic version in the amount of about 15%. Taking into account the availability of armour and more sophisticated electronic equipment its cost will increase to USD 20-22 million (source).

The Belarusian authorities failed to organize proper information and political support for “West-2017”. At the same time, it should be recognized that “West-2017”, perhaps, was the most open combat training event in the history of modern Belarus. In particular, the Ministry of Defence of Belarus held a briefing at NATO Headquarters devoted to the exercises on September 8, 2017. Although Belarus has done more than it was obliged to do by virtue of its international obligations in terms of transparency of the event, this proved to be not enough.

Minsk demonstrated complete unwillingness / inability to conduct information wars of a modern type. The passivity of the Belarusian authorities in terms of countering Russian provocations can be perceived by external observers as an inability to resist Russia’s pressure at all. So Belarus can’t be considered as a subject in the sphere of regional security.

Obviously, based on the results of the analysis of the information and political results of “West-2017”, certain conclusions will be made. The information component of the Defence Ministry will undergo transformation. Most likely, the reorganization will touch the military department: Belarusian state propaganda in whole works inefficiently. The main problem is the acute shortage of specialists capable of organizing an information confrontation.

Thanks to the involvement of the prosecutor’s office, another conditional perimeter to monitor the activity of Russian troops stationed in Belarus in connection with “West-2017” was established. Belarus tried to control the Russian military as much as possible (from soldiers to generals) despite the displeasure of Russia.

Based on the tactical episodes practiced during “West-2017”, it can be argued that in Eastern Europe only NATO and Ukraine fall into the definition of “conventional adversary” in the format implied in the scenario of “West-2017”. No other state in the region, except for Poland and Ukraine, is able to form a grouping of air assault means, fighting which was practiced during the exercise.

The opinion of the military circles of Ukraine regarding Belarus is dictated both by internal political processes and by the strategy for integration into NATO. The position of the Ukrainian side in many respects stands in solidarity with the position of the Alliance and even reflects it. That’s why the statements from Kyiv are not encouraging for Belarus: Minsk hopes for the start of a direct dialogue between Belarus and NATO on security and confidence-building in the region.

As unofficially explained in Kiev, statements that not all Russian troops were withdrawn from Belarus after “West-2017” are based on a delay with the withdrawal of some of these troops and not on their permanent location on the territory of Belarus.

Participation in “West-2017” of the Investigative Committee may be related to the need to fix and legalize the fact of foreign military aggression with the aim of using it for political negotiations or bringing to justice the responsible. The need for such skills is dictated by the experience of the war in the Donbass and Russia’s denial of the very fact of its participation in the aggression against Ukraine.

The experience of Kazakhstan in the organization of production in the sphere of military industry complex with the participation of foreign companies possessing the necessary technologies is interesting for Minsk. Such interest was expressed at the highest level (source).

The Belarussian national satellite communications system Belintersat was established with the technical and financial support of the PRC and the Great Wall Corporation. The satellite Belintersat-1, included in the system, can provide services to a wide range of consumers, including the provision of secure communications. The spacecraft is made on the basis of the Chinese platform DFH-4, which can be used to transmit data simultaneously to several hundred units of ground troops. Or it can be used to control a long-range UAVs. And, perhaps, for the guidance of high-precision weapons. Earlier Aliaksandr Lukashenka stated that he was ready to consider the issue of increasing the number of satellites of Belintersat system.

It is interesting to note that earlier the Belarusian authorities did not focus on the proportion of their own citizens in the total number of violators of border legislation. Just the whole number was used as a confirmation of Belarus’ significant contribution to the security of the eastern borders of the EU. Belarus was expecting to get money from Europeans for this.

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