The most important events of the month. On 10.06.2015, US President Barack Obama extended sanctions against Belarus for another year. The reaction of the official Minsk was restrained and frustrated. It seems that the Belarusian authorities are seriously hoping for a positive decision on the cancellation of US sanctions, taking into account the attitude of Belarus towards the Russian-Ukrainian war. Although there still remain disagreements between Belarus and the United States “… including the ones of fundamental nature” and they will take place in the future, at the same time the Belarusian authorities do not lose hope to establish cooperation with the United States to achieve “… a more comprehensive understanding by the American side of the national policy and the international role of Belarus”.
On 16.06.2015, holding “Helicopters of Russia” announced signing of a contract with the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Belarus for supply of 12 military transport helicopters Mi-8 MTV-5 in 2016-2017. The supply will be carried out under the same conditions (above all at the same price) and with the same specifications as for the Russian army. The contract may become the largest arms transaction in the history of Belarus: the total amount is likely to exceed USD 100 million.
The need for new helicopters is explained by the fact that the existing ones are both physically and technically outdated, many of which have passed the Afghanistan campaign.
12 units is the standard size of the squadron. It is no more than 1/3 of the minimum required number of military transport helicopters.
In addition, in 2014 Belarus bought from Ukraine 6 Mi-8 helicopters, assigned by the State Export Control Service of Ukraine to the category of combat helicopters. We are obviously talking about the used helicopters from the available ones.
The dynamics of the situation development for the past month. On June 2-4, Minsk was visited by the President of India Pranab Mukherjee, who paid his first official visit. During the talks the both sides discussed prospects of cooperation between the two countries in a number of areas, including the defense. It is worth noting that the level of coverage of the Indian leader’s visit in the official mass media in Belarus was much lower compared to the May visit of President Xi Jinping. During May and June, the meetings were held at the highest level for the leaders of Belarus and the largest countries in South and Eastern Asia: India, Pakistan and China, during which security cooperation was also a matter of discussion.
On June 02-18, Belarus practiced testing of consistent strengthening of the state border protection, for which conduct the Belarusian-Ukrainian border area was selected. Additional border outposts were formed at the expense of the State Border Committee reserves (hereinafter referred to as SBC), the headquarters of territorial defense (hereinafter referred to as TD) and the unit of the territorial troops (hereinafter referred to as the TF) in Yelsk District. The Ministry of Interior and the KGB forces were involved in Mozyr to protect the important facilities. The main task was to work out how to strengthen protection of the state border by attracting the forces and resources of the various law enforcement agencies, and to organize the effective interaction between them.
The transfer of the special operation forces (hereinafter referred to as SOF) to the area of the exercise was carried out to strengthen the border guards. The entire route of the military equipment column was accompanied by Mi-8 helicopters. The emphasis was paid to the protection of the units from sabotage actions.
When establishing the TD headquarters and the TF units in Yelsk District, the possibility of their quick organization was tested. There were more than a hundred local residents totally mobilized, with the total population of the district at least 16 thousand people, about 7 thousand of which are ablebodied, which is fairly a lot. About 400 conscripts in total were called for military training from the reserve, and about 17 units of motor vehicles from the household were involved.
The law-enforcement bodies of Yelsk and Mozyr districts were translated to a combat alert type of service.
At the same time in early June, a command-staff exercise took place at the “Brest” firing range with participation of the 38th Mobile Brigade of special-operations forces for countersabotage protection management. The use of special-operations forces in the promising organizational structure was practiced, including the aviation compound (unmanned aircraft systems, helicopters), the intelligence and electronic warfare units, and search dogs. The importance of the event is evidenced by the fact that the training was managed by the Major-General of the special-operations forces Vadim Denisenko.
The Belarusian MIC expands its presence in the international market: Vietnam defense conducted successful firing tastings of the three air defense missile systems (hereinafter referred to as ADMS) C-125-2TM “Pechora-2TM”, modernized by “Tetrahedron”. On 04.06.2015, the upgraded facilities were presented in Hanoi to the leaders of the country. Previously, “Tetrahedron” modernized ADMS to the level of C-125-2TM “Pechora-2TM” for Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Eritrea.
On 10.06.2015, according to the anonymous witness, the Belarusian mass media disseminated information that on 28.05.2015 on the territory of Mstislav District Mogilev Region an unmanned aerial vehicle (hereinafter referred to as UAV) of Russian manufacture was shot down by the Belarusian military. The information is accompanied by poor-detailed photos, according to which it is impossible to draw a conclusion about the place and time of production. The official explanations of the authorities did not follow.
On 11.06.2015, the Chairman of the KGB of Belarus Valery Vakulchik shed light on some details of treachery in the department. The fact of the KGB employee and his wife working for a foreign intelligence service was revealed. After the failure they tried to leave the country. They were detained in the act. The guilt of the detainees was proved in court –both are sentenced to 15 years in prison. In addition, a foreign intelligence officer was arrested in May this year, he is prosecuted for espionage.
On June 15-27, the Brest Region hosted the Belarusian-Chinese anti-terrorist exercises “The Fast Eagle – 2015”. The event is held every two years on the territory of Belarus and China alternately. The soldiers of the Special Airborne Company of the Airborne Forces of China arrived to Brest. Officially, the event is dedicated to working out issues of preparation and conduct of anti-terrorist actions.
On 16.06.2015, the Chairman of the State Military-Industrial Committee (hereinafter referred to as SMIC) Sergey Hurulyou reported to Alexander Lukashenko that “… the Belarusian multiple launch rocket system (hereinafter referred to as MRLS) has successfully passed the next tests” in China. The Belarusian leader expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of support from Russia in the part of development by Belarus of its own weapons. It is worth noting that though the name of the national MRLS was not reported, it is most likely that we are talking about the “Polonez”. Besides, it was announced about the plans of SMIC to increase the volume of production for the years 2016-2020 by 1.7 times, and the volume of export – by 1.4 times.
On 17.06.2015, the Minister of Defense of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Ravkov said that by the end of this year four divisions of Russian ADMS S-300 will intercede on combat duty, and the question of supply of Russian ADMS S-400 is under discussion, though it is early to talk about particular terms. The Minister stressed that Russia is the major partner of Belarus in the supply of military products, as well as in the repair and modernization of arms and military equipment. He also noted that many (i.e. not all) the supplies of military goods from Russia are made on favorable terms for the Belarusian side. In 2014-2015 50 contracts were signed on favorable terms for supply, repair and modernization of anti-aircraft missile systems, communications, electronic warfare, small arms and artillery weapons, ammunition, and aviation equipment.
The Minister of Defense noted that deployment of the NATO forces near our borders poses additional risks, which cannot be ignored, regardless of the reasons of strengthening of the NATO groups in the adjacent territories. At the same time none of the countries is currently considered a potential opponent to Minsk. Every country has the right to armed defense and “… we are understand the training activities of the armed forces of other countries”. General Ravkov stated that cooperation between Belarus and NATO has a practical orientation, meets our national interests and aims to maintain good neighborly relations with all the countries of the region and the world.
The head of the military department also said that the question of the time and place of the Russian air base establishment in Belarus is currently on the political plane. Therefore, it is early to talk about the terms of the aircrafts transfer from the Russian Federation.
The Minister declared that the new purchases of combat training aircrafts Yak-130 of Russian manufacture will be possible only upon the results from operating the four already obtained aircrafts). Thus, A. Ravkov disavowed the reports of the signed contracts for supply of an additional batch of these machines.
In June, it became known about establishment of the Belarusian-Russian military-industrial enterprise “EW Technology”. It will modernize and repair electronic warfare (hereinafter referred to as EW), carry out manufacture, maintenance, supply of components, special mathware and software, as well as special equipment for the needs of EW. The order of works on modernization of the Belarusian army equipment is already determined. EW Technology also provides repair of units and blocks produced at the Ukrainian enterprises. The company plans to develop a new generation of products: creation in 2016 of the exploration and management complex “Divnomorye” and the promising powerful noise jammers. It will also ensure modernization of the existing and creation of the new types of electronic intelligence tools.
On 29.06.2015, the Chairman of the State Security Committee of Belarus Vladimir Vakulchik reported to A. Lukashenko that the situation in Belarus is stable, and there are no threats, which would cause concern or require immediate response. The head of the KGB highlighted the build-up of foreign special services activity in respect of Belarus in the last year.
Belarus faced a strangle of drugs. The scale of problem is terrifying, according to the customs authorities. During 2014 the Belarusian Customs revealed more narcotic drugs than the entire Federal Customs Service of Russia. In its turn, the Ministry of Interior indicates a certain stabilization of the situation with drug trafficking because of the tough measures undertaken. Thus, when last year the growth in the number of registered drug-related crimes reached 150%, this figure was 1.8% for the first five months. Five months revealed more than three thousand drug-related crimes, about 1.4 thousand of which are associated with sale of drugs, 163 kg of narcotics and psychotropics were seized. The problem is involvement of the minors in drug addiction and drug trafficking. Last year 160 crimes were detected with their participation, in 2015 this amounts to 231 already. The “risk group” is young people, who neither study nor work.
Conclusion. The official Minsk is trying to «sell» to the Western countries the idea of regional security and prevention of expansion of the Russian influence, which is inevitable in case of the regime weakening. And when there is some progress in relations with the EU, the achievements in the American sector are much more modest. The fact that the text of this year decision on extension of sanctions is similar to the text of the same decision in 2014 shows an extremely low level of interest of Washington to Belarus. Despite a relatively modest scale of the US sanctions, the fact of their presence acts as a deterrent to large investors. The sanctions are only a part of the problem: there is a Law on Democracy in Belarus, according to which the executive branch is advised to abstain from any kind of provision of financial assistance to Belarus or investment guarantees under the US Government; The USA votes against providing financial assistance to Belarus in the international financial institutions.
The Belarusian army is moving towards unification of the military equipment. It is highly probable that the fire support helicopters Mi-24 are “living” their last years in the Russian Air Forces. The purchase of Mi-8 MTV-5 is the beginning of the transition process to one model of helicopter. In this case, taking into account the imposing on Mi-8 MTV-5 of the fire support features, one should have at least 4 squadrons and a total of at least 5 units in airworthy condition (and based on the fact that 20% of units are at various types of repair and maintenance works). However, part of the tasks on defeating the targets may be imposed on the domestic drone, which exists only in plans.
New helicopters may be assigned as a separate squadron to the special operations forces. Equipping them with helicopters has been under discussion for a long time. Development of the special forces capabilities is one of priorities of the national defense policy.
The turn of the official Minsk to Asia is a strategy, and not the opportunistic move. Development of political, economic, technological and defense ties with the major developing countries will allow the official Minsk to acquire greater autonomy from Russia and not to depend on the West, which the Belarusian authorities expressly do not trust. There is also an image value in development of cooperation with the developing countries: during financial and economic crisis the authorities should demonstrate a “story of success”, and outside the arena – a suitable option.
Speaking of the exercises in Mozyr and Yelsk Districts, we should note that during the event the procedure of actions of various law enforcement agencies was worked out. This system may be applied in any direction. The situation in Ukraine is just an excuse for exercises.
As for the information about the falling down of the unidentified drone in Mstislav District, we should note that judging by the photo, the damage of the drone comes from hitting the ground; there are no signs of hitting by the air defense systems. In any case, the destruction of the military UAV is possible only in case of its reliable identification as a foreign object, which does not belong to any other department in Belarus. In the context of the unprotected Belarusian-Russian border, Russia has no need to conduct air scouting on the territory of Belarus. There is high probability of fabricating the entire story with the UAV to put pressure on the Belarusian authorities. One should also not exclude the possibility of fall of the UAV due to technical reasons. Thus the drone may equally belong to both Russian and Belarusian operators. In the latter case, it is clear why there are so many military men in the area: search for the missing equipment. It also explains keeping silent by the Belarusian authorities: no one wants to recognize the damage (and most likely the death) of expensive equipment.
Judging by the fact that the former KGB officer and his wife are working for the foreign intelligence service were sentenced to maximum penalty, the damage caused by their actions is more than significant. In July 2013 Alexander Lukashenko made a statement about the fact of treachery in the ranks of the KGB. According to the words of the Belarusian leader, a member of the security services disclosed to the foreign state information that most likely concerned officers of the national foreign intelligence working abroad. Not later than the end of August of the same year Deputy Chairman of the KGB Major General Leonid Dedkov was resigned; he was in charge of the foreign intelligence.
In fact, during the Belarusian-Chinese exercises a mutual research of methodology training and tactics of warfare forces commandos is carried out. We study the equipment and armament of the parties. China sees such exercises also as teaching and marketing activities to promote the products of the Chinese defense industry to the new markets. Belarus in its turn regards them as an element of political rapprochement with Beijing, enhancing the growth of trust between the leaders of the two countries. The Belarusian authorities are also considering development of relations with China and other major countries of the Third World as part of the mechanism of national security in the broad sense (military, political, economic, etc.) without participation of the regional power centers (the West and Russia).
Testing of the Belarusian MLRS in the PRC would be needed also to explore the possibility of using high-precision missiles of Chinese production with a range of well above 200 km. It is worth noting that on 15.06.2015 Alexander Lukashenko received Minister of Defence A. Ravkov, who reported “… about the latest tests of missiles and other systems created to protect the territory of Belarus”. “Other systems” may imply anti-aircraft missiles ADSM to be created under project “Rapier”. According to reports from China, Minsk and Beijing reached an agreement in 2012 to develop “a new air defense system” and in 2013 – an agreement on development of MLRS, known as the “Polonez”. The gap between the volumes of production and export growth in the domestic defense industry in 2016-2020 may be explained by increasing procurement for the needs of law enforcement agencies of Belarus.
The probability of S-400 ADMS delivery to Belarus in the foreseeable future is negligible for several reasons. It is obvious that the cost of these systems exceeds the capacity of the defense budget of Belarus. It should be noted that S-300 were offered by Russia to Turkey at the cost of USD 375 million for one division. The cost of S-400 will be much higher. Moscow cannot ignore the policy of the official Minsk to distancing between the West and Russia, which already causes irritation on the part of the Russian ruling elites, used to the idea of the besieged fortress. It is clear that regardless of the nature and scope of NATO forces deployed near the borders of Belarus, Minsk will not voluntarily give consent to increase the Russian military presence in the country.
It is worth noting that only a part of the supply of defense products from Russia to Belarus is carried out on favorable terms. Moscow shows no particular desire to assist Minsk in strengthening the Belarusian military capabilities. The assistance is provided only in those matters that are of interest for Russia. The transfer of C-300 meets these conditions.
It is worth noting that the main drug trafficking comes to Belarus from Russia. Without introduction of a kind of permanent protection of the Belarusian-Russian border it will be extremely difficult to take control over the problem of illicit drug trafficking. It is obvious that some special services are unable to provide the proper level of control on the border with Russia: their number in the bordering regions is physically inadequate.