The most important events of the month. Despite the expectations, the annual address of Alexander Lukashenko was not a surprise: nothing new was declared; nothing particular was touched upon; it was largely an abstract and theoretical speech.
The month was notable due to the active Belarusian-Chinese contacts at the high level. Thus, on April 7-10 the Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Alexander Mezhuev paid a visit to China. Among other things, during the visit the parties discussed provision of support to Belarus from China in the field of defense. A. Mezhuev held a series of meetings with military and party leaders of China and the Chinese industrial corporation “The Great Wall” Yin Liming and the Chinese Aerospace International Trading Joint Stock Company “The Long March” Guo Chzhaopin.
“The Long March” is a manufacturer of defense products, including the missiles, multiple launch rocket systems (hereinafter referred to as MRLS), rocket motors, precision-guided bombs and unmanned aerial vehicles. The corporation has already demonstrated its developments in the field of defense here in Belarus. In particular, the anti-aircraft missile system of medium-range LY-80; tactical missile complex class “surface-to-surface” M20; guided missiles for multiple rocket launchers of “A” type. These systems belong to the class of precision-guided. The A300 is a precision-guided missile with a range of 120-290 km, the A200 has a range of 50-200 km, WS 3A has a range of 70-280 km, the maximum range of the M20 missile is 280 km. All rockets are using a universal launcher platform.
“The Great Wall” is officially focused on technologies related to space, but in 1991 sanctions for the supply of missiles were imposed against it.
On 08.04.2015, Minsk hosted a meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of China Wang Yi and Belarus and Vladimir Makey. It is reported that the parties “… reached broad consensus.” Besides the traditional doxology to each other, V. Makey said that “China is the priority” of the Belarusian foreign policy. And further: “Belarus is grateful to China for its long-term support of the independence and sovereignty … and will always support China in its turn.” It is worth noting that such estimations of bilateral relations were not mentioned in mass media reports. Though we are not doubting the correctness of statement given by the Chinese party.
The dynamics of the situation development for the past month. Tajikistan has been waiting for two years for emergency assistance of the member countries of the Collective Security Treaty (hereinafter referred to as CSTO) to strengthen the border with Afghanistan. This entails regular irritation of the official Dushanbe. On 04.02.2015 at the meeting of the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the CSTO, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan Sirodjiddin Aslov expressed dissatisfaction with such state of affairs. The decision to provide assistance to Tajikistan was adopted in September 2013 at the level of the Heads of states. The initiative was planned to be implemented in two stages. Firstly, provision of emergency assistance, and secondly, development of a special program on strengthening the Tajik-Afghan border. As a result, only Belarus and Armenia provided Tajikistan with emergency assistance. Belarus has sent clothing and protective equipment, Armenia sent vehicles. There was no Information about any assistance from the other members of the CSTO was not. At the same time, all CSTO countries (especially Russia) expressed concern about the possible destabilization of Afghanistan, increase of cross-border crime and extremism in the countries of Central Asia.
The Belarusian authorities are building the infrastructure for carrying out information warfare. As it was declared on 04.03.2015, the Belarusian Republican Youth Union (hereinafter referred to as BRSM) covered «… hundreds of thousands of young people» through the social networks (at least in theory). The VKontakte network alone gathered more than 340 communities under the aegis of BRSM, which unites 350 thousand participants. It is this social network which is paid most attention, since it is used by 80% of the Belarusian youth. About 90 thousand people are covered by Twitter, 50 thousand people are following BRSM communities through Facebook. Working in the Internet space has become one of the key directions of Belarusian Republican Youth Union for the past five years.
April started with the military testing of the unmanned aerial vehicle (hereinafter referred to as UAV) «Grif-1». The troops received one BAK-100 complex represented by four «Grifs» and a few supporting vehicles. After completion of the tests before the end of this year the Defense Ministry will receive a few more similar complexes. During the testing it is planned to confirm all the estimated characteristics of the UAV. So far, the UAVs have been equipped with the engines of foreign manufacture. It is expected that by the end of the testing (i.e. before the end of this year) we will be ready to provide the engine of domestic manufacture.
On 08.04.2015, it was announced about the plans to expand the Belarusian-Russian orbital group of satellites by 2018 from two to six devices. However, such extension will occur due to the Russian launch of the four satellites. It is worth noting that in recent years there is no information about the prospects of replacing the Belarusian orbital satellite, which was launched together with the same type Russian satellite «Kanopus-V» on 22.07.2012. It was reported that the service life of satellites makes 5 years. Thus, if the Russian spacecraft remains in orbit longer than this period, it is likely that the Belarusian copy will continue working after 2017.
On 09.04.2015, Tajikistan held a meeting of the Military Committee of the Collective Security Treaty Organization member countries, which was focused on the situation in Afghanistan in connection with the activities of the “Islamic State”.
On 10.04.2015, there was a workshop with the heads of the territorial defense, the territorial forces and the 38th Guards Separate Mobile Brigade of the Special Operations Forces of the Armed Forces. The event was attended by the members of the Defense Counsel of the Brest Region, military commissioners of the district/city commissioners, chiefs of the territorial defense groups, military recruitment offices, heads of territorial defense facilities. They worked out the issues of interaction with the departments of the Ministry of Defense. The workshop was attended by over 160 people and «… near 15 units of equipment» participated in it.
The Belarusian Ministry of Defense acknowledged the receipt of four Russian air defense missile battalions S-300 by the end of the year. The weapons will be distributed to the 377th, 1st and 115th anti-aircraft missile regiments. We may assume the following scheme: 2, 1, 1, respectively. It is unclear whether it is planned in connection with the arrival of the new divisions to convert the 1st and 115th anti-aircraft regiments to brigades or only the older armament of the same type will be replaced. There is also no clarity about the prospects of saving the most powerful S-200 air defense missile system, which is currently kept by the 377th anti-aircraft regiment. Although these weapons are very «old», their potential remains significant and it is still available in many countries. The downside of S-200 is its use of liquid-fuel rockets, which requires long preparation.
The Belarusian authorities believe that the situation in Ukraine will be a destabilizing factor in the region for a long time. This statement was part in the speech of the Minister of Defense of the Republic of Belarus Andrey Ravkov at the 4th Moscow Conference on International Security, which took place on 16.04.2015.
Russia continues to make efforts on replacing the products of the military and industrial complex (MIC) with the products imported from Ukraine and the West. Therefore, it is planned to use the potential of the CSTO member states. The analysis of available capacities is currently carried out. After which it will be decided on the possibility of inclusion of the CSTO enterprises to the manufacturing chains of the Russian MIC.
It was also reported that in 2014 the CSTO countries saved more than USD 500 million due to favourable mutual supplies of armament. Besides, according to the assessment of the CSTO heads, last year the CSTO members have acquired weapons and equipment for the amount of more than USD 650 million on a preferential basis. The numbers are provided to show the difference in prices between the exported armament and the armament for its own needs. Thus, the margin from supply to the external market amounts to 77% in comparison with the domestic supply.
On 27.04.2015, four combat training aircrafts Yak-130 of the Russian manufacture were transferred to the Belarusian Air Forces at the military Base in Lida. In addition to these vehicles the Aircraft Corporation «Irkut» is planning to deliver to our country eight more similar aircrafts. The contract for four Yak-130 aircrafts was concluded already, and there is an option for another four aircrafts. These plans were confirmed by the Belarusian officials as well. This next batch of aircrafts is planned to be transferred by 2020. The option is likely to be executed after 2020. The Czechoslovak military training aircrafts L-39, 10 units of which will remain in service at the Air Forces of Belarus until 2020.
The cooperation with Ukraine develops in the field of defense industry. In April it was reported that during the last year the Air Forces of Belarus conducted a testing of combat helicopter Mi-24R with TV3-117VMA-SBM1V-02 manufactured by the Ukrainian company «Motor Sich». As a result, the decision was taken on acceptance of the engine into service.
On 28.04.2015, a meeting of the Board of the State Military Industrial Committee (hereinafter referred to as SMIC) took place. It was focused on the issues of effectiveness of the chief designers in development and manufacture of new (innovative) products. It was stated that at present there are all the necessary conditions for development of the new types of equipment, and sources of financing are determined. However, the work of head and chief designers is still not effective enough.
The head of SMIC Sergei Gururlyov focused on implementation of the projects for development of anti-aircraft missile systems and creation of the medium-range line of lightly armoured combat vehicles.
In general, in the 1st quarter of this year, the volume of industrial manufacture increased almost twice related to the SMIC system; the growth in exports of goods and services amounted to 2.7% compared to the 1st quarter of 2014. In the first half of 2015 it is planned to reach the industrial production at the rate of 147% over the same period of 2014, the rate of growth in exports of goods and services is forecasted at 103-105%. The problem is overdue receivables, especially the foreign ones. There is a high dependence on the Russian market, in other words a narrow range of customers. A systematic work is needed to diversify the supply of goods, works and services.
On 29.04.2015, the CSTO Secretariat held a meeting of the working group on the fight against terrorism and extremism at the Committee of Secretaries of the Security Councils of the CSTO. The issue of the event was counteracting terrorism and extremism in the Central Asian CSTO member states. The participants also touched upon the use of special forces of the Collective Rapid Reaction Forces of the CSTO under the counter-terrorist operations regime in the CSTO member states.
Conclusion. After the parade on May 9th we may confidently assert that the domestic long distance MRLS “Polonez» is equipped with the Chinese missiles with the stated range used of more than 200 km; precision missiles of this range radius are produced by China only. And these weapons are actively exported. In this regard, it is likely that we will use the Chinese anti-aircraft missiles in the domestic medium-range air defense systems.
The information about the visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of China to Belarus indicates that the official Minsk is trying to hide their level of interest in cooperation with China, avoid public disclosure of the Minsk-Beijing commitments. It is caused by fear of the possible unfavourable reaction of Moscow.
It is obvious that the Belarusian authorities are trying to use the Internet to conduct information work. This is primarily inspired by the «Arab Spring». The events in Ukraine yet confirm the necessity of conducting propaganda and counter-propaganda by all available means. Another thing is that the efficiency of the Belarusian Republican Youth Union seems not obvious. For example, the social network VKontakte has almost 4.4 million users registered from Belarus, more than 3.2 million of which are under 31 years old. The actual coverage of the BRSM audience in the social networks is much lower than it is claimed. So that the same person may participate in several communities at a time; not all members of communities are residing in Belarus; the BRYU members make up a significant percentage of the community. In fact, there is an imitation of effective activity due to a simplified understanding of the social network technology, which is not limited to creating communities and placing information.
The delay in the BAK-100 / «Grief» project is not less than two years by now. So, in October 2012, it was stated on the supply of the initial batch of «Grif-1» for the Ministry of Defense before the end of 2013. In addition, a conversation on installing the engine of domestic manufacture to the UAV is carried on not for the first year. And the engine is not ready so far. The reason for delay could be either the technical difficulties in manufacturing of the new products for Belarus, or the restrictions in financing of the project.
It is also worth noting that the cost of BAK-100 is approximately USD 2 million. At the start of serial manufacture the cost may be reduced by half, if there is a massive order. The requirements of the Ministry of Defense are estimated as 25 units. But the size of the military budget and the general state of public finances makes the prospects vague, and therefore worsen the prospects of exports as well: the military equipment buyers choose those samples, which are purchased by the national army of the manufacturer’s country.
During the workshops on territorial defense in the Brest Region, the simulated enemy was represented by some terrorist groups characterized by high professional training and equipment that is required to attract the elite units of the Belarusian army and police. Obviously, that special forces of the regular army were meant, and the terms «terrorists», «illegal armed groups» are used for reasons of political correctness, partly in order to conceal the threats, which are considered by the government as probable. In any case, the source of such threats is a different state, but not any terrorist or extremist networks.
An announcement on the results of the SMIC enterprises in the 1st quarter of 2015 raises a number of questions. Thus double growth of industrial production was accompanied by a modest increase in exports. There may be several explanations:
— availability of large-scale orders from domestic consumers seems unlikely, since the budget expenditures are constrained and the overall solvency of business entities is not growing;
— ending the execution of a number of major contracts for provision of works and services, which resulted in decline in exports during the growth of industrial exports;
— a sharp decline (by tens of percent) of value of the exported SMIC products, which is unlikely because of the special nature of the defense goods market, where the prices steadily increase;
— taking into account the export-oriented national MIC, it is possible that the products made to be supplied to the external market turned to be unpaid.
The last reason is the most likely. The specific nature of statistical accounting in the industry of Belarus is that the volume of industrial production is recorded in conditional physical quantities. Practice shows that in an inflationary economy, such aggregates are not correct. The main market for the national defense industry is Russia. At the same time there were reports of defaults in payments by the Russian defense industry manufacturers regarding the products supplied. In turn, the Russian companies without getting budget money might be unable to pay for the products of the Belarusian subcontractors. This explains the concern about the foreign receivables and the need to reduce dependence on the Russian market. It is obvious that these steps are largely stimulated. Thus, the domestic defense industry feels the Russian economic crisis.
The level of cooperation of the CSTO countries remains low. Even regarding the issues touching upon their own interests the parties do not show willingness to cooperate. Traditionally, the agreements at the highest level are not binding for the post-Soviet space. However, the concerns of CSTO over development of the situation in Central Asia have serious grounds. The threat of destabilization of Afghanistan is not the main problem. The major problems are located on the other side of the border. The statehood of the countries in Central Asia is still vulnerable, and the ruling regimes are unstable. Under condition of suppression in the region (except Kyrgyzstan), the oppositional political activity and existence of serious social problems, the protest potential is increasingly shifting towards the religious and political activities. In addition, the largest countries in the region Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are still ruled by the leaders of the Soviet period, and the issue of transfer of power after their resignation remains unresolved, at least externally. Russia, which for the period since 1991 has been the essential source of stability in the region, is facing internal and external challenges limiting its potential to counteract the possible destabilization in Central Asia.
It should be noted that external forces intervention to the potential political crisis in the countries of Central Asia may be meaningless. Under the conditions of low efficiency of local authorities, their corruptive nature and questionable legitimacy, the significant part of the local population believe that any operation on stabilization or peacekeeping could quickly escalate into a full-scale military intervention. Meanwhile, the internal conflicts pose a political problem in the first place. You cannot “undermine” the situation in the country, if there are no prerequisites. And the main efforts on peacekeeping should be taken by the local authorities.
The Belarusian authorities should understand that CSTO can solve only limited goals with limited forces. Foreign military forces will never be able to replace local forces, if the latter are unwilling to deal with the threats and the local authorities are unable to effectively govern their country. Foreign assistance can be effective only if the local regimes enjoy wide and active support of their population. The conclusion is obvious for Belarus: the support of the conditionally allied regimes of CSTO countries should be limited to help in assistance of staff training, provision of weapons and special equipment, rendering of transport services. But under no circumstances they will send their soldiers.