The most important events of the month. On September 9-11, 2014, Belarus received the United States Government interagency delegation consisting of the representatives of the Department of State, the Pentagon and the United States Agency for International Development. The event appears to be significant against the extremely low level of bilateral relations between Belarus and the United States.
On 09.09.2014 the delegation was received by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus. The possibility of recovery and expansion of cooperation between Belarus and the United States, as well as other problematic issues of bilateral relations were discussed.
The American side confirmed its position on the most disputable moments of the internal policy of Belarus (respect for democratic rights and freedoms, practice of holding elections, availability of political prisoners in the country). The positive result of the visit was the intention of the parties to continue the dialogue. The interest in restoring relations is declared.
On 10.09.2014 a meeting of the Secretary of State (Assistant Minister of Defense of Belarus on military policy Colonel Oleg Voinov) with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for relations with Russia, Ukraine and the countries of Eurasia Evelyn Farkas. They discussed bilateral military cooperation and interaction within the framework of the NATO «Partnership for Peace» program, arms control and regional security.
It is necessary to note the fact that Alexander Lukashenko congratulated the Prime Minister of Poland Donald Tusk in connection with his being elected President of the European Council. He particularly highlighted the strategic role of Poland in the European Union. Given the fact that the Belarusian-Polish political relations are distinguished by a high level of conflict nature, the event may be seen as a landmark. And this is not only about improving the relations with the EU. It is obvious that the Belarusian authorities consider Washington as their final objective. Another thing is that there is no particular interest in Belarus there, and the use of lobby has not resulted in something really important. Therefore, promotion of the Belarusian interests in the White House by any of the close allies of the USA (for example, Poland or Israel) could be much more productive.
Dynamics of the situation development for the past month. In terms of problems with the budget replenishment it is particularly important to spend the available resources rationally. Major purchases for the state needs are carried out with operational support of the MIA Service for Combating Economic Crimes. However, even the police control does not embarrass the officials: mass violations in public procurement, multiple facts of manipulation with documents, attraction of fake participants to tender, overrating of the equipment purchased on account of the budget. For 8 months of the year the division for combating economic crimes has prevented several dozen of facts of doubtful use of budget funds for the total amount of more than BYR 160 billion.
In September, Russia made another statement about the need to create a military alliance to counterbalance NATO and new Russian missile defense system. Besides, it is proposed to include in the anti-missile system the Gabala radiolocation station (Azerbaijan) and two new airports, which creation was supposedly agreed by Russia and Belarus. These initiatives are suggested to be determined in the new version of the Russian military doctrine. It is also proposed to determine the main enemy (NATO in general or the USA in particular) and set the conditions for a preemptive nuclear strike in the new version of the document.
The offers on the architecture of the Russian missile defense are strange:
— Firstly, Russia has ceased operation of the Gabala radiolocation station, dismantled the equipment and drew out the entire staff in 2013;
— Secondly, the statement of the two Russian airports in Belarus is heard for the first time.
A kind of response of the Belarusian authorities on the prospects of being drawn into the confrontation between Russia and the West may be a requirement of A. Lukashenko to convene the supreme bodies of the Belarusian-Russian Union: as if there accumulated issues, including the military-political sphere. Minsk does not like the prospect of new dividing barriers in Europe, transforming our country into a frontline state. The requirement to Moscow on de-escalation of confrontation with the West and Ukraine is already expressed though in a milder form. The Belarusian interest is quite pragmatic: continuation of the Russian-Ukrainian war and confrontation with the West could bring down the economies of the key trading partners of Belarus – Ukraine and Russia. Thus our country will seriously suffer as well. But unlike Ukraine, Belarus will not be supported by the West. The Russian resources are rapidly reduced.
Belarus and Russia will jointly estimate the threats to information security. This is stipulated in the Agreement between the Governments of Belarus and Russia on cooperation in the field of international information security. The parties are planning to hold joint consultations, exchange information, perform analysis and assessment of emerging threats to information security; define, harmonize and coordinate the joint responses to such threats.
The list of the main threats includes:
— aggressive acts in cyberspace aimed at undermining security and cybercrime;
— use of information networks for terrorist activities, terrorist propaganda, creating an atmosphere of fear and panic in the society;
— monopolization of software production, embedding hidden features and functions in software and equipment for control of and influence on information resources and (or) critical facilities;
— dissemination of information that is harmful to the socio-political and socio-economic systems, the spiritual, moral and cultural environment of other countries.
On 02.09.2014 Grodno Region held their annual exercises, which worked out evacuation in case of emergency of 200 thousand people from educational establishments, health and social service institutions. The warning systems and preparedness of personnel to act in case of emergency was checked. The exercises covered about 850 institutions.
On 04.09.2014 Alexander Lukashenko signed Decree No. 433 «On Amendments to the Decree of the President of the Republic of Belarus of March 9, 2009 No. 125», which establishes the border area within the administrative and territorial units, adjacent to the state border of Belarus and the Russian Federation. It seems that the reason for this decision was a complex of factors, including the Ukrainian-Russian war. The issue is discussed in a more detailed material.
On 19.09.2014 the Chairman of the State Border Committee of Belarus Colonel-General Leonid Maltsev announced the plans on equipping each frontier post with unmanned air vehicle, and each border unit or group – with gyroplanes. The border agency is also planning to involve local population to perform tasks connected with of border security. It is about material incentives for provision of information or for productive work in voluntary squads. Such measures have already been used and proven effective. Attraction to cooperation of the local population is particularly important because of the limited human resources of the State Border Committee.
The situation in Afghanistan remains the center of attention in the CIS countries. On 09.09.2014 the Head of the CIS Antiterrorist Center (hereinafter referred to as ATC CIS) Colonel-General Andrei Novikov announced about the deteriorating situation in the field of international security, extension of the range of terrorist threats, emergence of new players of terrorism, oriented at geopolitical redistribution of the world. The blame for this, in his opinion, lies on a number of countries, which financially support terrorists to achieve their selfish interests. The latter is more than a transparent allusion to one of the main partners of the official Minsk in the Arab world — Qatar.
There have been persistent attempts to expand the scope of activities of Islamic terrorists in the CIS countries.
ATC CIS sees scenario of the terrorist threat posed by the use of nuclear or radioactive materials as real. New about thefts of radioactive elements around the world are taken seriously. In particular the theft by a terrorist organization «Islamic State» of «tens of kilograms of nuclear materials» from the University of Mosul (Iraq), according to militants. At the same time significant amounts of cash, enough to attract specialized professionals and purchase equipment for production of ammunition with the use of radioactive substances, was stolen.
Therefore, recently the special services of the CIS considered an urgent problem and started suppressing the illicit trafficking of nuclear and radioactive materials across the borders of the CIS, on a par with the fight against drug trafficking. It is very likely that drug trafficking routes from Afghanistan to Europe will be used. It is also expected to increase safety measures for the storage facilities of nuclear and radioactive materials in the CIS countries.
On 11.09.2014 Alexander Lukashenko appointed Colonel Andrew Vtyurin Deputy State Secretary of the Security Council, releasing him from the position of the Head of the Security Service of the President of Belarus. It is clear that such appointment is aimed at strengthening the Security Council. On the other hand, the best staff from all law enforcement agencies is already concentrated there. At least in theory.
On 12.09.2014 the European Union imposed sanctions on Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (hereinafter referred to as the UAC). This will directly affect the prospects of UAC entering the capital of the 558th Aircraft Repair Plant in Baranovichi: Belarusian authorities might take a break having fear of negative consequences. Especially in light of a possible extension of sanctions in the future. We may say that in case of failure of the project, Belarus itself will feel Western sanctions against Russia, deprived of joining by a major international producer of the national aviation industry. Which is sad under the conditions of a low level of high-tech domestic industry.
A similar situation exists around the sale of shares of Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant (hereinafter MZKT) to the Russian investor. The intergovernmental agreement is ready, but the Belarusian side takes time to complete the transaction. This is due to the fact that the potential investor found itself under the Western sanctions. So one should not expect the fast sale of MZKT. The decision, however, will be taken by Alexander Lukashenko.
The Joint Board of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia and Belarus, held on September 15-16 in Brest, considered the issues of cooperation of the law enforcement agencies of the border regions. It was stated about the expansion of cooperation in solving crimes in the sphere of high technologies, counter-drugs measures, the fight against economic crimes, corruption, and international crime. The reporting of the results of monitoring the socio-economic situation in the border area, of signs of racial, ethnic and religious discrimination, of the situation in the national minorities’ field is regular. Joint operations to detect and prevent illegal migration, terrorism, extremism, illicit trafficking of armament and explosives is conducted. The exchange of information about the so-called black diggers related to excavations in areas of fights during the Second World War or the military units location is practiced. During the event, on 15.09.2014 an agreement on cooperation in the fight against crime was concluded between Belarus and Russia. The document has simplified the procedure for requesting legal assistance, allowing subdivisions of the law enforcement agencies of the two countries to interact directly.
The problematic issue is still the level of corruption in Russia, which allows the criminals from our country to hide there. In addition, there are complaints about the quality and efficiency of execution of orders for legal assistance from the Russian colleagues. It should be noted that in general such problems are solved in working order.
On 23.09.2014 Alexander Lukashenko demanded from the national defense industry to move to creation of a full cycle of prospective weapon systems manufacture, including weapon systems. The national army needs equipment that would allow hitting precision strikes at great distances. It is obvious that the Belarusian authorities seek to ensure independent production of certain weapon systems, particularly sensitive to the national defense: anti-aircraft missiles, and possibly surface-to-surface missiles (cruise or ballistic). In this regard, the interest in the missile technologies of Ukraine is not surprising.
On 30.09.2014 Su-25, the bomber of the national Air Forces, crashed in the Grodno region. No one was hurt. The event is currently being investigated, the results of which are not likely to be made public.
Conclusions. Recovery of relations with Washington is the cornerstone of the entire architecture of the Euro-Atlantic policy of Belarus. There may not be full-fledged relations with the EU without normalization of relations with the United States. With all its consequences: limited investment, transfer of technology and capital, trade with dual-use products, etc. Rapprochement with the United States will require certain steps from Belarus to demonstrate willingness to consider the interests of different political groups. The most preferred form of this demonstration is obtaining seats in the parliament by those politicians, who are considered pro-Western. It is doubtful that there will be the opposition politicians. We may rather expect the representatives of public organizations, professional and business communities, quasi-expert structures, which are well-known in the West and are based on Western financial support it their activity. And which are at the same time dependent on the Belarusian authorities for different reasons.
The limiting factor in the Belarusian-American relations is the low interest from the USA to Belarus and mistrust to the Washington’s policy on the part of the official Minsk. The latter is not a game in order to win the support of Moscow. The Belarusian authorities do not understand and do not accept the modern Western world order. Thus, they treat it with a considerable degree of hostility. In fact, the regime is ready to accept the Western money and technologies only, but not the structure of society and the state.
The idea of creating an anti-NATO may be attributed to the state of some hysteria that swept the Russian society, but the assertions about the return of the Russian military presence in Azerbaijan and two airfields in Belarus may be indicative of the discussion in Moscow, at least at the level of expert discussion, of plans for involvement of post-Soviet states into a confrontation with the West. Earlier Russian media have made statements that along with fighters Russia should deploy its bombers on the territory of Belarus. The probability of creating an anti-NATO is small. However, even the attempt to implement this scenario will create a lot of problems for the Russian neighboring countries and ultimately destabilize the entire post-Soviet space. None of the ruling regimes in the CIS considers the West as an enemy. Consequently, Moscow needs to start changing some of the rulers in the neighboring countries to create the anti-Western bloc. It is doubtful that they have enough opportunities and resources for that.
The Belarusian-Russian agreement on cooperation in the field of international information security is a response to the events of the Arab Spring. The ruling circles of some CIS countries with a certain degree of fear and mysticism relate to information security and everything connected with it. It is interesting to note that the document has no distinction between the information (psychological) security and cyber security. It can be argued that the official Minsk plans to use the know-how and technologies of Moscow. It follows, in particular, from the statement of the Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (hereinafter referred to as CSTO) Nikolai Bordyuzha that «… the Russian experience in this area is used in the Collective Security Treaty Organization.» Which is the ground for creation within the CSTO of «the center to combat cyber threats and counteract information attacks» as part of the Special Operation Forces of the CSTO.
Although the State Border Committee still denies it, the analysis of the current legislation explicitly allows to treat the decree of 04.09.2014 as the beginning of creation (or demonstrating a willingness to create) a full-fledged border guard on the Belarusian-Russian border. Based on the cost of development of the state border between Belarus and other former Soviet countries the minimum amount of financial resources for the demarcation of the border and creation of infrastructure at the border with Russia will be at least USD 260 million. Besides, it will require at least two border units, an increase of staff number of the existing Polotsk and Gomel border troops. That means increasing the number of Border Guard Service by approximately 1.5 times. The term for arrangement of the Belarusian-Russian border may take up to 7-10 years.
To implement the plans of the State Border Committee on equipping the department with gyroplanes, the pilots, technicians, and engineering infrastructure are needed in each border guard detachment or group. None of this is currently available. The staff is to be not only prepared, but (which is most important) kept on their places. Creation of Air Service will be required. In this regard, refusal of the border agency from its own helicopter detachment seems premature. The gyroplanes performance is disputable, while gyroplanes are used primarily as a sport, amateur and training aircraft. It should be noted that General L. Maltsev generates a lot of innovative ideas in the border agency. However, due to the conservatism of A. Lukashenko, these innovations can cost L. Maltsev his post.
It is highly probable that appointment of A. Vtyurin as Deputy Head of the Security Council will entail new personnel decisions, including the Head of the Office, General Alexander Mezhuev.
Even with the help of Ukraine the prospect of creating by Belarus of missile armament with a 100% localization is doubtful. Otherwise it will be the technology of the previous century. Cooperation with the countries, the likelihood of conflict with which is small and which are strong enough to withstand the external pressure due to defense cooperation with Belarus, is rational. In our case, it is China, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey in the future.
Belarus has a certain margin of Su-25 in storage, so the loss war plane on 30.09.2014 will not affect the possibilities of domestic aviation. Despite the fact that every plane crash is a highly serious incident, the accident rate in the Belarusian Air Forces, as a whole, does not exceed the average level of annual loss of military aircraft as a result of flight accidents. However, this does not cancel the need to purchase new airplanes.