The most important events of the month. On 25.03.2015 it was announced about the upcoming visit of the President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping to Minsk in May. It is planned that the Chinese leader will stay in Belarus for three days. Obviously, the President of China has good reasons for such a long stay in our country.
Some sources believe that during this visit agreements may be concluded on privatization of state property in Belarus in favor of China. There are not so many enterprises in Belarus, which China may be interested in. And Russia in its turn is interested in their privatization in its favour. Against the background of refusing to sell the Belarusian state-owned enterprises to the Russian investors, their selling to China may be perceived in Moscow as an open challenge or insult, which may provoke counteractions of the Kremlin.
In connection with the visit of the Chinese leader, more attention should be paid to another batch of Chinese military aid to Belarus. It includes two convertibles of «luxury» class, which will be presented at the military parade on 09.05.2015. The parade will be a debut for the first national multiple launch rocket system (hereinafter referred to as MLRS) «Polonez». It is reported that it has twice bigger destruction range than MLRS «Smerch» of the Soviet/Russian manufacture. At present only low resolution images of transport and loading vehicle MLRS «Polonez» (hereinafter TLV) are available. However, certain conclusions may already be made. Thus, judging by the ratio of the width of the chassis and the package installed on TLV, MLRS «Polonez» can carry 6-10 big bore ammunitions. The system is multi-caliber and will probably use a missile of 300 mm or more caliber. The range of MLRS «Smerch» ammunition is 70-90 km. Thus, the destruction range of MLRS «Polonez» is between 140-180 km. Therefore we may assume that «Polonez» will be equipped with the ammunition used in Chinese heavy MLRS, namely:
— WS-1B caliber 302 mm and range 60-180 km, and/or
— WS-3 caliber 400 mm and range 70-200 km, and/or
— WS-2(D) caliber 400 (425) mm and range 70-200 km, and/or
— A-100 caliber 300 mm and range 70-180 km.
At the parade there will be also presented such complexes as «Lis», which are essentially Russian armoured vehicles «Tigr», assembled in Belarus, with a coned-bore (130 mm and 152 mm) anti-tank missile system «Shmel».
The dynamics of the situation development for the past month. First time during a long period it was reported about the activities on preparation of area defense (hereinafter referred to as AD). Thus, in early March, it became known of a two-day AD staff training, which was held in late February in the military commissariat of the Grodno region. It worked out the issues of cooperation between the area troops and the divisions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Emergency Situations, State Security Committee, Investigative Committee, and State Border Committee at performing the tasks on maintaining law and order, protecting facilities, eliminating consequences of terrorist attacks, accidents, catastrophes, natural disasters and others. The event was attended by the representatives of local authorities and the military commissariats of cities and districts of the region. On 05.03.2015 the training was held with the representatives of AD management and law enforcement agencies of the Vitebsk region. The issues of interaction between departments and training of area troops were worked out. On March 23-27, the planned joint staff training was carried out with participation of the unified command of the regional groupings of Belarus and Russia. Among others the headquarters of AD zones (i.e. regions and Minsk) and the national government of Belarus participated in the event. The training was carried out at fixed control points.
Difficulties with filling of the state budget forced to adjust the priorities of law enforcement in prevention and suppression of crimes in the economic sphere. Earlier the increased attention of MIA was paid to government procurement, modernization of state-owned enterprises, and use of budget funds. This year, there are new priorities: return of foreign exchange earnings to the country, and control over the currency market and the financial sector (especially banks). This is due to the fall in export and foreign exchange earnings to the country against the background of large foreign debt payments. The second task is provision of the revenue side of the budget. In this context the fight against with tax evasion by the fake business entities is strengthened.
The Belarusian authorities very seriously take information about participation of the Belarusian citizens (especially former military personnel) in fighting on the territory of Ukraine. Currently, the main focus is on prevention of departure of the Belarusian citizens for participation in warfare and control over the persons, who may have been involved in the warfare.
On 05.03.2015 Alexander Lukashenko made a number of statements at the meeting with the administrative board of the internal affairs agencies, internal troops of the MIA and students of the Faculty of Internal Troops of the Military Academy.
For example, he denied the connection between attention to the law enforcement agencies, he pays in recent months, and the availability of certain threats. However, he immediately noted that the modern world is becoming less safe, and a number of challenges are already on the borders of Belarus. Traditional statements were made about the «color revolutions» which «… aim at destabilizing not only the particular countries, but the entire region», and as expected that «… there will be no «color revolutions» in Belarus».
The events in Ukraine are considered by the government as an opportunity to strengthen the demographic potential of Belarus. In this case, the task remains to prevent the penetration of criminal elements under the guise of settlers.
It was declared that despite the difficult economic conditions, Belarus succeeds in timely equipping the law enforcement agencies and the army with modern weapons and military equipment to carry out the planned study. The country has created adequate reserves in case of conflicts and emergencies, and reliable area defense. Unfortunately, the number of those «most modern weapons and military equipment» was not specified. We are talking about small batches or even individual copies of it. The area defense capacity is obviously suffering a crisis.
The traditional electoral topic is the fight against corruption. Alexander Lukashenko stressed again that corrupt elements will be punished. It was stated that corruption has become a major cause of crisis in Ukraine. The Belarusian leader noted that at present there is no reliable barrier against corruption in Belarus. The areas of high risk are still the projects implemented with government investment. There are claims to performance of the law enforcement agencies in this field: they are acting not systematic and active enough.
The President welcomed the efforts of the Ministry of Internal Affairs on combating drug addiction, which is seen as a significant challenge to the national security.
For the first time during a long time period the topic of alcoholism, especially in rural areas, was heard at such a high level. In the fight against alcoholism the authorities have to step on the throat of their own song: excise taxes on alcohol production are an important source of budget replenishment.
Separately, Alexander Lukashenko highlighted the threat of «exporting» radical ideas and doctrines to Belarus. In this case we are talking about such doctrines and ideas that represent a threat to the national security, territorial integrity, constitutional order and independence of the country. Alexander Lukashenko is also concerned about the illegal activities of youth organizations, in particular, the football fans. The attention of the head of state to the youth subculture is primarily associated with the role of fan group members in the Ukrainian revolution. Which role, frankly speaking, is greatly exaggerated. At least not less credit in the overthrow of the Yanukovich regime belongs to the veterans of the war in Afghanistan.
On 13.03.2015 a meeting of the Belarusian-Polish Subcommittee on cross-border cooperation took place. An agreement was reached that in future the rescuers of the two countries will cross the border without visas in case of emergencies. This agreement will be fixed in the forthcoming signing of the agreement on cooperation between Belarus and Poland on prevention of accidents, natural disasters and other emergencies as well as mitigation. The document will be signed in April. Currently effective interaction is performed on information exchange and responding to various situations threatening regional and global importance.
On March 17-20, Belarusian officers took part in the strategic command and staff training with the central bodies of military control of the Armed Forces of Russia. This may be seen as a manifestation of the strategy of the official Minsk on remoteness from the conflict and acceptance of relations with all parties to the conflict, and as a step to mitigate the negative nature of the part of the Russian ruling elites towards the position of the official Minsk during the confrontation of the Kremlin and the West.
On March 19-20, the Joint Staff of the CSTO held a business game devoted to assessing the crisis, preparation of joint actions in order to avoid negative development of the situation and development of a set of possible measures, organization and management during the deployment and use of forces and means of the collective security system in different regions of the CSTO. The procedure of work of the Center for Crisis Response of the Collective Security Treaty Organization was approved and the organization of its interaction with the national defense control centers of the CSTO member states was tested.
On 25.03.2015 Gomel hosted a meeting of the First Deputy Heads of Border authorities of Ukraine and Belarus. The sides discussed the results of cooperation in 2014 and the main areas of cooperation for the current year. In particular, the joint investigation of the border violations, fight against corruption, coordination of border patrols and deepening the information-analytical interaction. The State Border Committee of Belarus noticed enhancement of criminal activity on the border with Ukraine. In this regard, in March comprehensive measures were conducted to strengthen the regime of the border protection and stabilization of the crime situation. For this purpose additional forces of MIA, Ministry of Defense, social and tax services were involved to work out the smuggling directions.
The Belarusian Ambassador to Russia Igor Petrishenko informed about the negotiations «… on the final number of units of duty fighters base to be located in the territory of the Republic of Belarus. «This is the first statement of the Belarusian side for a long time about the prospects for the Russian Air Forces presence in our country. Previously, the main newsmakers on this topic were Russian officials. It is worth noting that the Ambassador highlighted that the subject of negotiations is the number of units of duty fighters of the Russian Air Forces. In turn, the Russian side stated earlier about the prospects of placing a regiment of fighters at the Russian airbase. According to the Ambassador, it is indirectly confirmed that the official Minsk is not interested in creating the Russian airbase in Belarus, and is generally not interested in a large-scale Russian military presence in any other form.
On March 26-28, Belarusian delegation headed by Deputy Secretary of the Security Council Stanislav Zas took part in the conference of heads of the defense ministries on the issues of conduct of UN peacekeeping operations. On 26.03.2015, during the meeting of S. Zas with Deputy Secretary General of the UN on support of field missions Atul Khare, our representative expressed interest of Belarus in extending participation in the UN peacekeeping operations. Our country is ready to provide peacekeeping unit and the necessary specialists.
During the meetings with the Chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces of Spain and Serbia, the prospects for extending Belarusian participation in the UN military operation in Lebanon were discussed.
On 28.03.2015, a meeting was held between S. Zas and UN Deputy Secretary General for peacekeeping operations Herve Ladsusom and Adviser on peacekeeping operations, Lieutenant-General Ahmed Maksoud, where the extension of Belarusian participation in the UN peacekeeping operations was discussed as well.
On 31.03.2015, Alexander Lukashenko gave an interview to Bloomberg media holding, which was mainly focused on regional security issues, relations with Russia and the economy.
Alexander Lukashenko stated that without participation of the USA there can be no stability in Ukraine in particular and in the region as a whole.
He did not deny the Russian armament supplies to terrorists in eastern Ukraine. Though he specified that he «… is not making a research.» The direct question of the interviewer about the appropriateness of the Western arms deliveries to Ukraine was left by Lukashenko without an answer, saying that it was not his business and that the Ukrainian leader sees it better. Belarus has a different purpose: peace in Ukraine. Lukashenko believes that further escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict may lead to enmeshing other countries in hostilities.
Belarus is ready to repel any external aggressor from any direction. In Russia there are many people still thinking in imperial categories and see Belarus as the part of Russia, which will never happen. Alexander Lukashenko made it clear that the war in Ukraine has demonstrated to the Russian leaders the impossibility and danger of foreign aggression in the modern world.
The Belarusian leader does not see aggression in the actions of NATO. He is sure that there is no desire in the Alliance (and the US) of military confrontation with Belarus.
Conclusion. If the assumption about interconnection of the visit to Belarus of the President of the PRC and the supply of weapons to our country is confirmed, it will be a kind of turning point. Until now among the European countries only socialist Albania received the Chinese weapons. Chinese equipment is also sold to Kazakhstan, Armenia and Turkey, which geographically belong to Asia, despite participation in a number of regional European organizations. Given the fact that the Chinese defense industry enterprises are interested in the arms market of the former socialist countries, the arrival of Xi Jinping to Belarus with a long visit may be part of strategy to promote the complex Chinese technical products in the region. It is unlikely that Moscow will be pleased. Although, as the entire post-Soviet history shows, Russia is not able to counteract the penetration of China in its old fields.
Resuming of the AD preparations started almost immediately after the speech of Alexander Lukashenko on 19.02.2015 before the military command. The Belarusian leader stressed the importance of establishing an effective AD system in Belarus. The leading role in this area will be given to the Ministry of Defense. Despite the fact that recently the Belarusian military leadership wanted to assign these issues mainly to the local authorities.
Apparently, filling of the budget becomes no less important for the law enforcement agencies of Belarus than maintaining control over the situation around the presidential elections. This proves the seriousness of the economic problems of Belarus.
There are several causes of attention of the Belarusian authorities to the citizens of Belarus participating in the Russian-Ukrainian hostilities:
— Minsk aims to keep equal distance in the war on both sides, and therefore the participation of citizens in the conflict may result in adverse claims of political or ideological nature from Kiev or Moscow;
— there are fears that the combatants with combat experience and serious ideological motivation can take part in activities to destabilize the political situation in the country.
It is obvious that the Belarusian government believes that the real threat is provoked by external destabilization. The authorities are preparing to respond to any attempts of active manifestation or protest. At the same time they completely deny the fact that the ground for shocks is created by the policy of national authorities. The external forces intervene if and when there are certain conditions.
The situation in the field of national security depends not only on the current crisis of regional security, but also on the internal economic crisis in Belarus. The failures of economic policies include external adverse factors. The strict budgetary constraints are imposed, which in turn increased the competition among the agencies for access to the financial resources. Given the current election campaign, a number of law enforcement agencies use the fear factor with regard to possible politically motivated riots after Ukraine. Since the obvious weakness of the opposition, the role of the new enemies of the regime is played by football fans, while the fan movement is essentially a subculture without a clear political platform. The authorities are creating an imaginary threat to fight with. The desire to show their necessity and thus obtain the access to state resources obviously has nothing to do with the real problems of national security. There still remains a possibility that due to the diversification of sources of information the highest political leadership of the country will not start the expensive and absolutely senseless struggle with the “windmills”.
The statement of the Belarusian Ambassador in Moscow about discussing the number of units of the Russian Air Forces in our country assumes keeping the existing rotation scheme. It allows to suggest that the number of Russian fighters within one squadron will be maximal. It can be expected that the number of Russian aircrafts will match the number of NATO fighters located in the neighbouring Baltic countries. Modification of Russian cars will be of great importance. It is interesting to note that on March 17-18, a planned visit to Lithuania was paid by Commander of the Air Forces and Air Defense of Belarus Major General Oleg Dvigalev. During this visit the parties discussed the implementation of the Agreement on exchange of information on aircraft operations, cooperation in the field of search and rescue support, status and prospects of military cooperation in the field of air forces and air defense. The latter seems strange: in the context of national air forces and air defense the Lithuanian air forces represent a symbolic value. Obviously, during the visit the issue of the Russian military presence in Belarus was discussed. Against the background of the crisis relations between Russia and the West, building the Russian Air Forces in our country will not contribute to cooperation of Minsk with neighbouring capitals.
The participation of Belarus in foreign missions is a step in the right direction. This activity should be considered part of the strategy on expanding cooperation with the West. The peacekeeping operations under the aegis of international structures are the result of political cooperation with the member states. The USA and EU are showing great interest in organization of the coalition actions to stabilize and maintain peace in the maximum number of member states. Participation in such operations will boost the interest of other countries to Belarus. Our country is very little known abroad, especially in the United States. And this creates problems in national security. We should expand country recognition through active participation in the international affairs and more aggressive work of the Belarusian diplomats in the countries of their stay, especially in the USA and the EU.
The content of the interview given by Alexander Lukashenko to Bloomberg indicates a serious cooling of the Belarusian-Russian political relations. The Belarusian leader did not deny the supply of Russian weapons to the terrorists in Donbass, and he still did not speak against the supply of the Western armament to Ukraine. NATO is no longer seen as a threat. At the same time its announced about the intention of Belarus to attract borrowed funds from the West (due to placement of government bonds and obtaining loans from the IMF). The frank speech of the Belarusian leader may be a consequence of the inability or unwillingness of Russia to provide Minsk with the next portion of financial support. Though we are not talking about reformation and westernization of Belarus «from above»: the regime is only trying to obtain the new sources of support for preservation of the existing political system. The Western values are alien and unacceptable to the Belarusian authorities. But the Western money, markets and technologies are in need. The official Minsk will not completely turn away from Moscow and will not turn to the West. This will be rather a sidewise interaction. In the current environment, this position is optimal for the regime and for the country as a whole.
The Belarusian authorities do not intend to and cannot afford a full-scale worsening of relations with Russia. Therefore, a certain cooling in the political sphere and economy is mitigated by bilateral contacts in the field of security. It is worth noting that it raises awareness regarding the future plans or mood among the Russian generals. The Belarusian authorities are closely watching the spreading Russian chauvinist hysteria and to the best of their ability are trying to neutralize its influence on Belarus by tacit and non-public steps.