The most important events of the month. December will be remembered not for another currency crisis (this is already normal for Belarus), as for blocking of the independent media Internet resources. Herewith, the list of blocked sites will not allow to distinguish any systematic or clear criteria of the decision-making process on blocking: either tough opposition media, or the neutral ones were under attack. The authorities did not explain such measures, although most observers were quick to relate these activities with a wave of panic in the currency market. However, this assumption is not based on any facts: only part of the independent electronic media was blocked; social networks were working as usual, even though they are an important and operational channel of information distribution; there were no other measures of pressure on journalists in addition to the Internet media access restrictions. This allows to regard the authorities’ actions as technical handling of algorithm of actions on limiting access to the information networks in the event of crisis of stability of the current regime. The currency crisis was only a pretext, if not a coincidence. In our opinion, the need to develop a mechanism to block the distribution of information may be related simultaneously with two factors: the coming presidential elections and the poor character of the Belarusian-Russian relations amid the weak forecast of Kremlin policy. In future, we cannot exclude the possibility of complete blocking of access to the Internet from Belarus and replacing it with the internal information computer network (Intranet). This, of course, is an extreme case, which will be temporary. Such a radical solution is the only effective way to control the distribution of information through the network, since blocking of some sources, while maintaining access to the Internet, provides only a short-term effect.
Approval in December by the Council of the Republic of amendments to the martial law may be considered a coincidence, though symbolic. For the first time it provides the opportunity to introduce martial law upon a threat of encroachment of the constitutional order. The list of measures for martial law is extended: the ban on establishment of political parties and other alliances, their unions and associations during the martial law; suspension of mass media release with the exception of those permitted by the Ministry of Information.
The dynamics of the situation development for the past month. December became notable by counter-drug trafficking activation. This issue has gained importance not today, but the Belarusian authorities have never earlier demonstrated such drastic and, what’s more important, fast action with regard to drug trafficking. In a short time the legislative measures were developed to make the liability for drug trafficking more severe: The age of criminal responsibility for drug trafficking reduced from 16 to 14 years; the maximum penalty for selling drugs, which resulted in death of a man provides for 25 years of imprisonment.
In December, the law enforcement agencies reported of elimination of drug trafficking groups, which operated for a long period of time. Among those detained there was a former police officer and two current KGB officers. However, ten members of the group were inter alia accused of abuse of powers. I.e. we are talking about the officials, possibly current employees of the law enforcement agencies. The fact that no additional information on the KGB detainees was reported may serve indirect evidence that we are talking about non-ordinary intelligence officers.
On 02.12.2014 the Commander of the Air Forces and Air Defense of Belarus Major General Oleg Dvigalev said that in the new year of 2015 the defense equipment received several new models of radar stations. We continue to purchase low-altitude radar stations «Rosa» in the amount of 3-4 items and an unnamed number of radar stations «East-D.» Modernization of the existing equipment, which is up to 5 times cheaper than buying the new ones, is also expected. The problems of coordination of the necessary works by the Russian manufacturers may pose an obstacle in modernization of the Belarusian aviation.
The 4 divisions of air defense missile systems S-300 (hereinafter referred to as ADMS) earlier promised by Russia will be delivered to Belarus in October 2015. The relevant missiles to those ADMS have already been passed. Our assumption about their distribution among the air defense units in Polotsk, Grodno and Brest has been confirmed. The fact of transfer of the missiles reinforces our hope that at least by the end of 2015 Belarus will finally receive them. Although, not so long ago it was asserted with confidence that ADMS will be transferred by the end of 2014.
On 05.12.2014 Alexander Lukashenko received the Chairman of the State Border Committee (hereinafter referred to as SBC) Leonid Maltsev. They have discussed the issues on optimization of organizational structure and arrangement of border infrastructure. At the same time the Belarusian leader doubtfully reacted to introduction of unmanned aerial vehicles for the border protection. However, the attention was focused on the border with Ukraine. L. Maltsev stated that the state of border security of the country is stable, but the SBC is ready for any changes in the situation. The optimization of the organizational structure of the SBC has helped to strengthen the state border protection, including the border with Ukraine, to deploy additional forces (two border outposts in the area of nuclear power plant under construction and a new border guard unit in Mozyr). The head of the SBC announced the introduction of fast-signaling complexes (in addition to the UAVs) and other facilities, «which allow to protect the state border with the use of smaller, but more reliable forces…».
On 05.12.2014 at the CIS meeting a protocol was signed on cooperation in the field of transport infrastructure and vehicles protection against the unlawful interference acts. Working out of a coherent line of transport networks development and creation of international transport corridors in the CIS are among economic priorities of the Commonwealth. Thus up to 70% of the world terrorist attacks occur on transport or using vehicles. Shut-off of the major transportation hub as a result of sabotage may cause environmental and economic problems. Safety of transport and transport infrastructure is among the top priorities for the law enforcement agencies of the CIS countries, which is supported by a coordinated strategy on counteracting terrorism in transport.
On 16-20 December the fourth meeting of the Belarusian-Turkmen intergovernmental commission on military-technical cooperation took place. The parties have discussed implementation of the activities described in the final minutes of the previous meeting of the Commission, the progress of the current and future projects, and have agreed on the procedure for further implementation of the previously signed contracts and elaboration of the promising cooperation projects. The representatives of the national military and industrial complex conducted a presentation of products. A series of talks was held with the law enforcement agencies of Turkmenistan, including the State Border Service. The latter deserves special attention in the light of worsening of the situation in Afghanistan and on the Turkmen-Afghan border. This opens up additional possibilities for purchase of the Belarusian defense products to Turkmenistan.
On 17.12.2014 a development concept until 2025 was signed between the 558th Aircraft Repair Plant (Baranovichi) and the Russian United Aircraft Corporation. The document aims at maintaining the position of the Belarusian enterprises in repair and modernization of aviation equipment, as well as its integration into the international market for aircraft manufacturers. There are measures on access to Russian state defense order, creation of competitive models of weapons and military equipment, technical re-equipment. Goskomvoenprom Belarus expects that cooperation with UAC will allow the 558th ARP to gain access to modern technologies in aircraft production.
December brought new signs of worsening relations between the official Minsk and Moscow. Thus, on 17.12.2014 the Russian Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov expressed doubts that A. Lukashenko will go for the next presidential term. It is interesting that the press conference was ignored by the representatives of the Belarusian state television; questions to the Russian official were asked only by the journalists representing non-governmental media.
At present A. Surikov is the only person in Belarus, who doubts that Alexander Lukashenko plans to participate in the elections of 2015. However, it is possible that he simply knows more than the others (including Lukashenko himself) or mentioned the sentiments of certain groups in the Russian ruling elite. The Ambassador emphasized the fact that Russia is supporting the Belarusian people. This could be understood as that the ruling representatives of the people are indifferent to Moscow.
In addition to the traditional trade wars that long have become a routine of the Belarusian-Russian relations, we should mention the ban of rail transit through Belarus of the products bound for the Customs Union countries and Asia. However, transit through Ukraine and Latvia was not restricted. Apparently, the ban did not last long, but the fact that it was used «selectively» against our country is quite an alarming sign. And this means only one thing: the relations between our countries are far from partnership and tend to worsen. The economy is too intertwined with politics, even though it seems that only the economic sphere of the Belarusian-Russian relations is affected.
In the absence of other response capabilities the official Minsk answered with tough rhetoric to the Russian trading pressure.
In this regard, it is worth paying attention to the meeting of the Security Council of Belarus of 16.12.2014. At this event A. Lukashenko approved the Plan of State Defense for the next 5 years, signed Decision and Directive on national defense. We may only guess what these two documents are. The Plan of State Defense is a secret document.
As it is stated, the defense plan was developed under the direct supervision of A. Lukashenko «… taking into account the in-depth analysis of the situation … in the world … especially the wars and conflicts of the recent years».
The meeting of the Security Council was accompanied by emotional statements of A. Lukashenko regarding the Russian policy and the West. Especially highlighted were «… strengthening of intelligence activities, deployment of military facilities on the territory of Poland and the Baltic countries”. This evidences that Belarus should develop and strengthen its defense capability. However, «… the current behavior of our eastern brother is alarming. But we do not make any conclusions yet… before we talk with the President of Russia.» It was stated that the main threats are embedded in the economy.
However, the bilateral meeting between Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin as part of the supreme council of the Union of Belarus and Russia did not take place. On 23.12.2014, Moscow hosted two summits: the Collective Security Treaty Organization summit (hereinafter CSTO) and the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council summit.
At the CSTO member states summit the situation on the southern borders of the CIS remained in the spotlight. Special attention should be given to the speech of the President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon. He said his country looked forward to the complete fulfillment in 2015 of the CSTO Collective Security Council decision «On provision of assistance to the Republic of Tajikistan to strengthen the Tajik-Afghan border», adopted on 23.09.2013. In this case, the need for such assistance is increasing in the light of the situation that is emerging in neighboring regions. E. Rahmon noted that Tajikistan acts as a buffer for the entire post-Soviet space restraining the threat of terrorism, weapon and drug smuggling. And thus it is entitled to effective assistance of its partners in the CSTO.
The defense ministers of Kazakhstan and Belarus, Imangali Tasmagambetov and Andrei Ravkov, correspondingly, reaffirmed their intention to strengthen cooperation in the defense sector during the meeting of 22.12.2014. The both sides noted «… the need for enhanced cooperation in joint exercises, exchange of experience in improving training, improving the interoperability of the armed forces of the two countries.»
On 23.12.2014, a meeting of the heads of the Defense Ministry of Russia and Belarus. The Russian side again publicly declared its intention to increase military presence in our country. However, the wording of the statement was vague enough: «to increase the number of aircrafts and helicopters at the air base in Belarus without specification of its legal status. It is unclear whether the wording was random or the result of unwillingness of Minsk to legally formalize the creation of a Russian airbase. It should also be noted that the Belarusian media ignored the topic of the Russian military presence increase in the country, which has become a tradition.
Conclusion. The Authorities had to pay attention to the situation with drug trafficking in Belarus because of the two factors. Firstly, the situation has real negative dynamics. Thus, more than 12% of all prisoners in Belarus were convicted of crimes related to drug trafficking. And this number is still growing. At the beginning of the year 2,300 people were convicted of these crimes. 80% of the drug users are young people aged between 16 and 29 years and most of them need compulsory treatment against drug addiction. Secondly, we should not forget about the political aspect: presidential campaign in Belarus is in progress. Amid the economic problems, Alexander Lukashenko feels obvious deficiency in winning slogans.
The drug dealers in the ranks of the KGB is an absolutely unprecedented case. But this is only one of the signs that all the «diseases» of our society have long ago been spread and deeply rooted in its most conservative part – the law-enforcement agencies. In this regard, it is not necessary to talk about structures, absolutely «clean» from abuse and violation of the rule of law. Some of them simply hide their flaws better than the others.
The question of financial security of plans of the Belarusian military leadership regarding procurement of new equipment and weapons remains open. According to the budget 2015, there was no increase in the defense expenses, despite the tense situation in the region, the factor of the upcoming elections and categorical statements of A. Lukashenko. Moreover, the stability of the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble is doubtful: now in January it exceeds the average one forecasted by the government plans for 2015 as a whole. Definitely it can be argued that the budget 2015 will be reviewed. It is not the fact that the budgets of the law-enforcement agencies will be able to save the planned level: the capital expenditure traditionally may be frozen.
The attention paid to the transport security of CIS countries is worth mentioning. Thus, on 05.11.2014, Astana (Kazakhstan) hosted a meeting of the Council of Heads of Security Agencies and Special Services of the CIS member states. Among other issues the participants discussed the protection of transport infrastructure from terrorist attacks.
Talking about cooperation between the 558th Aircraft Repair Plant (Baranovichi) and the Russian United Aircraft Corporation, the most important question is whether the entry of UAC into the capital of ARP is envisaged. And if so, in what amount. Earlier, the Russian side expressed interest in purchasing shares of the Belarusian manufacturer. Given the sanctions wars between Russia and the West, this aspect may be crucial for the Belarusian aircraft manufacturers. It is worth noting that the website of UAC does not contain information about signing such document. Perhaps, because the event is not seen as highly important compared to Belarus.
The Plan of State Defense is a secret document. However, based on the statements of A. Lukashenko during 2014, we may suggests that it contains measures to strengthen intelligence and counterintelligence activities, develop the domestic defense industry in terms of producing weapons and increasing the number of foreign partners, deepen the interaction of Defense and Interior Ministry troops, support military special operations forces and special units the Ministry of Internal Affairs in service, develop rocket technology in general and receive new «surface-to-surface» missile complexes.
The time for conflict between the official Minsk and the Kremlin is apparently unsuccessful, Belarus is not in its best economic shape and needs the Russian support. Given the fact that financial assistance from the West will not be soon (if at all) received and in any case cannot be compared with the Russian support, the official Minsk should avoid rhetoric, which Moscow may regard as provocative.
Judging by the fact that it is the second year from adoption of the decision by the CSTO to assist Tajikistan in securing the border with Afghanistan and this was not implemented, as well as the appeals of E. Rahmon, the interaction of the CSTO countries leaves much to be desired even on the issues of common interest. And there is enough doubt that the assistance to Tajikistan will be provided on time and in full. In general, failure in agreements fulfillment is a characteristic feature of all post-Soviet associations.
In case of failure of the official Minsk to conclude an intergovernmental agreement on location and legal status of the Russian airbase in Belarus, the deployment of additional forces of the Russian Air Forces in our country may be carried out on the basis of the existing contractual framework between the two countries. The status of Russian aviators may be conditionally defined as «guest». And under the Belarusian command.