Situation in the field of national security and defense of Belarus (November 2016)

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The most important events of the month. November can be considered a month of aviation.

23.11.2016, Four combat training aircrafts Yak-130 of Russian production were transferred to Belarus Air Forces. Service introduction of these aircraft finishes on them. Future purchases will depend on the results of their operation, manufacturer’s ability to offer a modification of attack aircraft on the base of Yak-130 as well as financial capacity of the budget. The latter is not encouraging.

It is also stated that Belarus plans to buy at least a squadron of Su-30CM until 2020.

28.11.2016, The Corporation «Russian Helicopters» provided first six Mi-8MTV-5 (out of the twelve ordered) to the Defense Ministry of Belarus during the delivery ceremony. This is perhaps the largest purchase of military equipment for the national army in the last quarter of a century. The contract value exceeds USD 100 mn. The number of purchased helicopters presents at least 1/3 of the minimum required number of national Air Force machine of this class.

The dynamics of the situation in the past month.  02.11.2016, The annual Collegium of the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Belarus and Russia, chaired by Ministers Andrey Ravkov and Sergey Shoigu, was hosted in Minsk. Although the parties demonstrated optimism and satisfaction with the cooperation, the discrepancy on a number of fundamental issues is evident. So, the question of confrontation with NATO for the Belarusian military is not worth it. Alliance – is a partner, still minor, but obviously – not the enemy.

The traditional topic was the cooperation in the framework of joint regional air defense system of the two countries, which the parties traditionally plan to develop and strengthen.

November 3-4, a complex training devoted to actions in case of threat and emergency situations in peacetime and in wartime was held in Minsk. The training was carried out in two stages: first — the elimination of emergency situations in peacetime; the second – transfer of civil defense of the Moscow district of Minsk city on a military situation.

11.11.2016, President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, visited Belarus. This event was paid a great attention in Minsk. Although formally the main topic of the talks was trade and economic cooperation, a large amount of time the two leaders gave to personal communication «… during which they discussed a variety of topics ranging from the agenda of international cooperation to global and regional problems in open and trusted way». Actually, the only regional problem that affects both countries, is the Russian-Ukrainian war and another split in Europe between East and West.

16.11.2016, the meeting of Secretaries of Security Councils of the CIS member states took place. The problems of illegal migration, counter-terrorism cooperation, information (psychological) security were discussed. It is interesting to note that the activity of the sect «Aum Sinrekё» was highlighted as a separate issue.

16-18 November, a command-staff training with the civil defense services on the organization of actions in case of emergency passed in Mogilev. The notification system of the city’s population in case of emergencies was also tested.

18.11.2016, a memorandum of understanding and the development of cooperation between the State Military Industrial Committee of Belarus and the State Administration of defense technology and industry of China was published. The document actually came into force as of 05.10.2015. It is expected that Beijing will support Minsk in the creation and production of Tactical Ballistic Missile System (hereinafter referred TBMS), advanced anti-aircraft missile system of medium-range, as well as «other relevant projects».  In addition, the parties plan further development of spacecraft for Earth remote sensing and communication satellites, and the participation of Chinese companies in the modernization of the Belarusian defense industry. A working group was established to implement the plan, it includes in particular «Precise Electro-Mechanics Plant», «ALEVKURP», «Peleng», China Aerospace Long-March International Trade Co. Ltd, China Great Wall Industry Corp. There is no information available about the working group.

22.11.2016, a joint collegium of the Belarusian and Russian Ministries of Foreign Affairs took place. One of the issues discussed was the actual closing of the border between the two countries by Russian authorities for the movement of third country nationals. It is presented that the real reason was an attempt of Moscow to force Minsk to introduce a common visa policy. And in reality — to the transfer of the part of national sovereignty towards Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry within the external political sphere. We devoted a separate material to this topic (source).  

 22.11.2016, Alexander Lukashenko made a working visit in Moscow. Which, according to the extremely poor coverage in the state media, ended unsatisfactory for the Belarusian side.

A day later, 24.11.2016 it was reported about the plans of Russian Defense Ministry to increase sharply the volume of military rail traffic along the route Russia-Belarus-Russia.

November 23-24, consultations on planning of Belarusian-Polish military cooperation were held in Warsaw. As a result of event, the parties signed a plan of cooperation between the Ministries of Defense of Belarus and Poland.

November 24-26, after a 5-year break, Minsk Forum was arranged — one of the main areas of Belarusian-German dialogue. The event was neutral in relation to the nature of the Belarusian regime. As a result, one of the organizers of the forum was prohibited to enter in Belarus.

25.11.2016, 7th meeting of the Belarusian-Kazakh Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation was held in Minsk. Traditionally, it covered the assessment of achieved results, definition of future plans. Kazakh delegation visited a number of enterprises of the Belarusian defense industry.  

November 28-29, Alexander Lukashenko visited Azerbaijan. Currently, there is a formal alliance between Minsk and Baku. To remind, intensive contacts at the level of the top military leaders of the two countries were held in September and October (source, source). Obviously, they were a kind of preparation for the visit of Alexander Lukashenko to Baku.  

30.11.2016, meeting of the Council of Ministers of Defense of the CIS member states passed in Moscow. The parties discussed the prospects of adaptation of united CIS air defense system to solve aerospace defense tasks (hereinafter referred as AD). Additionally, they settled issues of forming a unified electronic information-reference database of radiation, chemical and biological hazardous sites located on the territories of the Commonwealth countries.

31.11.2016, Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on the priorities for the period of chairmanship of the Organization of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (hereinafter referred as CSTO): consolidation of efforts of international organizations to promote peace and security. It is planned to initiate a number of joint meetings and activities on peacekeeping, fight against terrorism and drug trafficking, disaster relief, combat human trafficking and illegal migration with the United Nations.  

Summary. Statements about the purchase of Su-30CM till 2020 causes skepticism for the following reasons. First, the cost of the Su-30CM squadron will be about USD 500 mn. That is, will exceed the official annual defense department budget. Second, taking into account the nature of political relations between Minsk and Moscow it is not obviously that the Russian government would like to offer favorable supply terms to the Belarusian side. And first of all, payment terms (credit, leasing). Russia is interested in increasing its military presence in Belarus. And the supply of new aircraft will actually knock the main argument of the Kremlin – the inability of the current Belarusian Air Force to protect the air borders, which are considered as common to the two countries.  Thirdly, we cannot exclude that in the foreseeable future government will start the practical implementation of the order of A. Lukashenko, stated in April 2014, on the production of own aircraft in cooperation with other countries. Modernization and return to operation of decommissioned and stored heavy fighters Su-27 is possible. As a result only a body of old machine will stay after this modernization, and with considerable changes. It can be said about the production of new aircraft with the use of components, assemblies and structural elements of the old one. A similar practice is used in aircraft engineering, but not massively. In this case the experience gained by Belarusian air constructers during the modernization of Kazakhstan’s Su-27 will be important.

Belarus and Russia are gradually in different military-political realities. Interests and views on regional security of the two countries will continue to diverge. This process began at the latest in October 2014, when by the results of the joint board of the Ministry of Defense of Russia and Belarus, Belarusian side rejected from giving political assessments to the events in the region, expressing only satisfaction on the level of bilateral military-technical cooperation and pointed not more than 50 contracts in this area (source). More than 20 contracts of this type were concluded in 2016. As in previous years, nothing has been reported about the financial volume of these transactions.

It should be noted that A. Lukashenko, on the day of the joint collegium of the Ministry of Defence of Belarus and Russia, was outside the country and didn’t meet with S. Shoigu. Collegium – is a planned event, which by desire of A. Lukashenko and S. Shoigu could be delayed in order to arrange a meeting between them. However, the desire to communicate did not arisen. Last time the Russian Defense Minister and Belarusian leader held a private meeting in June 2013. Obviously, the pessimism was due to the rejection to place the Russian airbase in Belarus.

Interest of the CIS security services to «Aum Sinrekё» is associated with the experience of the sect to create chemical weapons in makeshift conditions and use them  in transport infrastructure. Their safety has been under the focus of the CIS law enforcement agencies over the past years. This is due to the fact that these objects are relatively easy targets for terrorist attacks. And their paralysis will lead to serious psychological and economic consequences.

It is worth noting that the Belarusian-Chinese memorandum of cooperation in the field of military-industrial complex was divulged in a year and a half after the entry into force and shortly before the visit of Alexander Lukashenko in Moscow. It is likely that Minsk tried to demonstrate a high level of autonomy in such a sensitive area of Belarusian-Russian relations as security.

Belarus and China’s plans for the joint development and production of communication satellites confirm the intention of Belarusian side to develop a satellite communication system «Belintersat». That may be necessary for the use of precision weapons and long-range UAVs.

Cooperation with China in the field of TBMS is indirect evidence that the development of its own air missiles is not a priority for Minsk. This may be due to the inability to obtain technological support from the Ukrainian side. The reasons are unknown, but the factor of lack of political trust between Minsk and Kyiv seems to prevail. Belarusian authorities completely lost the trust of the neighboring country’s political elite after the recent UN vote against the resolution initiated by Ukraine and supported by the majority of the world community.

Currently it is not possible to speak confidently about the causes of sharp increase of rail traffic volumes to Belarus planned by Russian Defense Ministry. This may indicate that the scale of Belarusian-Russian training «West-2017», which will be held on the territory of our country, will be comparable with the training of the NATO «Anaconda-2016». The arrival of Russian troops numbering over a motorized rifle division is expected. It may also be an element of psychological pressure on the official Minsk, demonstration Kremlin’s expectations for further expansion of cooperation with Belarus in the sphere of defense until the placement of Russian military base in our country. The message about the planned growth of military transport from Russia to Belarus may be considered as an attempt to discredit the Belarusian authorities, demonstration of their dependence on Moscow on security issues. The topic of regional security is currently the most sensitive for the EU and the United States and serves essentially the only reason for the Western interest in Minsk.

The interaction between the Belarusian military and their counterparts from NATO countries is not a sign of a geopolitical reversal. The development of Belarusian contacts with the West in the field of defense and security is the process of restoration of normalcy: three out of five neighboring countries to Belarus are members of NATO, while another (Ukraine) aims to join the Alliance. Under these conditions, the development of contact, not only at the bilateral level, but also in Belarus-NATO format is necessary. The level of contacts and cooperation will be very limited in the foreseeable future. The limiting factor is the reason that the subjectivity of Belarus for many in the West (especially in the military sphere) is not evident, the dependence of Minsk from Moscow is considered to be so deep, that it does not make any sense to discuss important issues with the Belarusian authorities. In addition, problems with democracy and human rights in Belarus do not contribute to the development of cooperation with foreign countries in the field of defense.

It is worth noting that the military and political leadership of Belarus is still considering a military alliance with Russia as the most preferred option, allowing to guarantee the external safety as well as Russian economic preferences. However the conformity of military alliance with Moscow has become increasingly unobvious to the official Minsk in recent years. Russia cannot support Belarus at the previous level  for objective reasons. But at the same time the Kremlin expects from Minsk deeper integration in the field of military security. Russia, offering less wants to get more, which is unacceptable for the Belarusian authorities. Partially because that may hamper the process of normalizing relations with the West.

The ban on entry to Belarus for one of the organizers of the Minsk Forum is a manifestation of the conflict between the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus Vladimir Makey and separate security forces, particularly special services. Currently there is a poorly concealed dissatisfaction at the top level regarding the strengthening of foreign ministry. Belarusian diplomats are accused of arrogance and pride of rank, which do not correspond to the level of their professionalism. MFA itself is suspected of trying to steamroll the functions of other departments. Due to the closed system of power in Belarus, is not possible to say with certainty if the claims to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are justified, or it is just a manifestation of inter-departmental competition. It should be noted that a travel ban on entering Belarus for one of the organizers of the Minsk Forum could indicate that the position of V. Mackey is not so stable as it is commonly believed. In addition, it is a sign of discontent of Alexander Lukashenko by the achieved MFA results. Otherwise, the security services would not have dared to take such a step. The weakening of the Head of the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs may explain the agencies’ activity in the western direction: Belarusian diplomats are ready to discuss all, even the most sensitive issues, including human rights. Previously, any criticism from the West about the level of democracy in the Belarusian political system perceived as an attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of the country and was noisily rejected. Now, however, the Belarusian diplomacy needs results that can be quickly  presented to A. Lukashenko as the justification of placed trust. Anyway, to withstand the pressure of security services department will not be easy. It is necessary to emphasize that this has nothing to do with the nature of Belarusian-Russian relations or relations with the West. The conflict is purely internal.

Documents signed during the visit of Alexander Lukashenko in Baku do not represent a significant interest. It seems that the main topic was the promising areas of cooperation between the two countries: the supplies of Azerbaijani oil to Belarus, Minsk, lobbying of Minsk  interests in Ankara, the production of heavy multiple rocket launchers «Polonaise» in Azerbaijan (but under a different name). However, Belarusian-Ukrainian political crisis calls into question the prospects of Azerbaijani oil supplies to Belarus. Kiev sidelines also regard the possibility that in response to the unfriendly Minsk attitude towards Ukraine, the pipeline from offshore oil terminal «Pivdenny» in the direction of Belarus may be closed «for repairs». But only for the oil supplied to Belarus.

Prospects of a unified aerospace defense system look more like a harebrained scheming. Most countries participating in the joint CIS air defense system do not have the financial resources to purchase the necessary equipment. And only Russia has the technological advance in this field. It seems that a united aerospace defense system can serve as a propaganda response to the development of US missile defense system on the one hand. On the other hand, in case of practical implementation, it will be the measure to establish Russian control over air defense system of the CIS countries. Russia may be willing to take care of all the necessary material costs, but under the condition of taking control over the entire united air defense and aerospace defense system of the CIS. However, the possibility of establishing a working aerospace defense system of the CIS is doubtful: financial costs are necessary which Moscow will not be able to afford in the foreseeable future. Obviously, the Commonwealth capitals understand it. And therefore serious progress should not be expected in this regard. 

Creation of list of objects by the CIS that pose a threat of infection for the areas, may be due to the presence of a hypothetical terrorist threat. Also, as a purpose to destroy these objects and to capture hazardous materials that may be used as a weapon in future. It is likely that this list will be followed by the establishment of a safety program for these objects.

A relatively pacifist agenda of the Belarusian presidency in the CSTO is noteworthy. Despite the loud calls from Minsk to strengthen collective security and military component of the Organization, in practice it turns out that Belarus is not interested in the real strengthening of the CSTO as a military-political bloc. However, the same can be said of the other Member States, with the exception of Russia.

The prospects of the UN and the CSTO cooperation can be claimed «rather no than yes». West and China are not interested in strengthening the integration associations under the Russian control. And so will block any attempt to give the CSTO the international subjectivity. Although, such a target is not considered by Minsk: it is important to demonstrate its constructive approach during its chairmanship in the Organization, to create the image of a responsible and peace-keeping member of the international community.

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