On September 1, 2021, Aliaksandr Lukashenka announced that Russia will soon supply to Belarus “… dozens of aircraft, dozens of helicopters, the most important air defence weapons”. And perhaps even S-400.
We have devoted a special article to the prospects for the supply of the S-400. So far, this is more likely about the distant future, certainly not about the near future.
But the rest is worth dwelling on in more detail. Here it is necessary to answer three questions: what exactly will Russia deliver, in what quantities, and in which form such deliveries are possible. Perhaps we should start with the second one. Given the lack of primary information, everything said below is a hypothesis, not knowledge.
Delivery conditions. The configuration of the state budget of Belarus (even if you believe its official indicators) does not allow us to regard the prospect of purchasing modern aircraft by dozens of units as realistic. Thus, we can only talk about purchasing new equipment on credit.
Earlier, Lukashenka stated that USD 300-500 million of the unused part of the Russian loan for the construction of the Belarusian nuclear power plant could be used to purchase weapons from Russia. However, if we are talking about dozens (i.e. 20 or more units) of aircraft and helicopters, then this amount of money is definitely not enough. Rather, it is enough to purchase a pair of squadrons of Russian helicopters, but not combat aircraft.
It is necessary to underline that Lukashenka’s plans to use the part of the Russian “nuclear” loan are only Lukashenka’s plans. According to him, these plans did not cause rejection from Vladimir Putin. But nothing has been reported about the support of these intentions either.
Here one should pay attention to the contract between the Russian “Uraltransmash” and the Ministry of Defence of Belarus for overhaul with the modernization of the “Akatsiya” howitzers, which was signed at the end of June this year. And at the end of August it was already completed, despite the fact that the original transfer of the repaired and modernized equipment was scheduled for 2022. Of course, neither the size of the batch, nor the complete list of work performed are known. But the speed of execution of the contract gives reason to suspect that these howitzers are not of Belarusian origin. They could have been provided from the Russian army stocks in order to replace the Belarusian equipment with great wear and tear.
It can be assumed that the plans voiced by Lukashenka, in whole or in part, imply the provision to the Belarusian army of equipment from the Russian army stocks. Which still has a significant resource, but is being replaced by new designs. Actually, Russia has previously transferred Belarus S-300 air defence systems, which were replaced with more modern equipment. So in this case we can talk about the old scheme only on a larger scale.
What equipment and in which amount can be provided? Lukashenka’s statements about dozens of planes and dozens of helicopters that are about to arrive from Russia should not be taken too literally. We can talk about several dozen pieces of equipment and weapons in total, and not of each type. Nevertheless, let’s try to assume what the types of weapons that Belarus can get and what the scale of supplies can be.
Firstly, these are relatively new MiG-29 SMT fighters. “Su” planes became the basis of the Russian Air Force fleet. The existing “MiGs” are replaced by MiG-35 in homeopathic quantities. This process is based not so much on needs of the army, but on the intention to increase the attractiveness of MiG-35 in international markets: buyers do not like to buy equipment that is not in service with the manufacturer’s army. In total, we can talk about the transfer of 1-2 squadrons of the MiG-29 SMT to the Belarusian Air Force. There is unconfirmed information about the plans of the Belarusian military command to have 3 fighter squadrons for the medium term, 2 of which using MiG aircraft.
It is also necessary to consider the previously announced plans to receive a second flight of 4 heavy Su-30SM fighters this year.
Secondly, within the framework of a Russian loan, up to 24 units of Mi-35 fire support helicopters and/or Mi-8 of transport-combat families can be purchased. The delivery of 4 Mi-35 helicopters has already been announced.
But here there is also a time factor: Lukashenka announces that he will receive the equipment in the near future. But nothing is known about new contracts for its acquisition, except for the aforementioned four Mi-35s. Even if the contract is signed now, the equipment will arrive only next year.
So it seems more likely that within the framework of “military-technical assistance” from Russia Belarusian army will receive relatively new (in comparison with Belarusian) Mi-24s, which are to be replaced as part of the rearmament of the Russian army. Used and modernised Mi-8s can also be obtained by Belarus.
Thirdly, regarding air defence equipment. It is the purchase of new air defence systems Tor-M2E in the amount of 1-2 batteries. This possibility has been previously reported. Also, within the framework of “Russian military-technical assistance”, it is possible to assume the receipt of 3-4 divisions of the S-300PM (1,2) and/or S-300V air defence systems (for example, in the B4 version). The latter are of particular interest due to their missile defence capabilities. The S-300Vs were previously in service with the 147th Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade. However, for unknown reasons, the brigade was rearmed with the “Osa” air defence missile system. It can be assumed that it was not possible to maintain the proper technical condition of S-300V and/or missiles for it. In general, the issue of providing anti-aircraft missiles to the S-300 systems is quite relevant. And it cannot be solved without Russian support. So the transfer of anti-aircraft missiles, in addition to the air defence systems themselves, can become an important part of the proposed package of Russian military-technical assistance for Belarus.
Reasons for generosity. Such large-scale assistance could be part of a package deal, including the extension of the functioning of Russian military facilities in Belarus for the next 25-year period, joint air defence duty of fighter aircraft on the airbase in Baranavičy and the creation of a joint air defence training and combat centre in the Hrodna region. The latter can be viewed by the Kremlin as a first step towards creating a full-fledged military base in Belarus in the next 2-3 years.
So Moscow’s help can be seen as bait on the hook of the very Russian military base, which Lukashenka first agreed to create in 2013, and then in 2015 said that he was hearing about it for the first time.