Bombs for Saudis and IIllegal Arms from Ukraine - Belarus Security Digest

Russian Topol-M Intercontinnental Ballistic Missiles Need Belarusian Chassis. Image: Wikipedia.

On 5 January, Russia declared that Belarusian firms would get direct access to Russia's military procurement orders. It this really happens, it will mean that Russia has completed the process of replacing Belarusian components with Russian ones.

Minsk is looking to diversify its links in the military sphere. Recently, it continued working with China and Pakistan, and may even have made a deal with Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Belarus faces ever bigger repercussions from the war in eastern Ukraine. Minsk is suppressing important information on these consequences. Only recently local authorities revealed the dramatic growth in weapons trafficking in the southern regions of the country.

Continuing cooperation with Pakistan

The Aviation Herald recently reported that on 26 December a plane belonging to the Belarusian company Transaviaekspart loaded with 100 tons of bombs had broken down in Saudi Arabia. The plane reportedly was bringing bombs to Saudi Arabia for use in the Yemeni civil war.

This incident corresponds with known facts about Minsk's collaboration with the West and Western-allied powers in the region. These include evidence of Belarusian aviation transporting supplies for the French army, selling bombers to Sudan and engaging in military cooperation with Qatar.

Continuing cooperation with Pakistan also follows this pattern, as Islamabad is a partner of conservative Arab regimes allied with the West. On 11 January, Belarus' Defense Minister Andrei Raukou met Ambassador of Pakistan Masud Khan Raja.

According to official information, the two “reaffirmed the willingness to strengthen [military] cooperation.” Co-operation with Pakistan, which has been actively going on for more than two years, includes a significant military component. It is unclear how Minsk launched such dynamic rapprochement with Islamabad. Not only conservative Arab regimes but also China, a traditional Pakistani ally, might be behind it.

New space project, this time with China

China remains a key partner for Belarus. On 15 January, the Belarus-Chinese satellite Belintersat-1 was released from the Chinese Xichang Space Centre. The Belarusian Military Industrial Committee was in charge of the project from the Belarusian side, while Great Wall Industrial Corporation carried out the project from the Chinese side. Officially, the new satellite provides only services of a civilian nature.

The launch is the latest in a series of cooperation projects with China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), which owns Great Wall Corporation. Last year, Belarus demonstrated a new multiple launch rocket system called Palanez and established a production line to manufactures its rockets. That apparently took place with the assistance of another company belonging to CASC, Sichuan Space Industry Corporation.

It is noteworthy that this is the first time that Minsk has resorted to Chinese services to launch a satellite. Belarus previously implemented its space projects with Russian help.

Belarus and the war in Ukraine

On 14 January, the Secretary of Ukraine's National Security Council Oleksandr Turchynov announced that Russia had deployed its military units to the Belarusian airbase in Babruysk. Moscow allegedly sent Su-27 fighter jets, attack helicopters and military transport aircraft to the airfield. According to Turchinov, that is part of a large-scale deployment of Russian forces along Ukrainian borders. Belarus' Defence Ministry denied these claims. The media did not produce any evidence to support the accusations, either.

Belarus also faces ever more frequent repercussions from the conflict in eastern Ukraine on a local level. On 11 January, Belarusian police detained a man from the southern Brest Province who had fought on the side of the rebels in Ukraine's Donbas and Luhansk regions. In November, another Belarusian from the northern Vitebsk Province who participated in the conflict on the side of the Ukrainian government was arrested in Minsk.

Commenting on the latest arrest, head of the Brest Regional Department of Internal Affairs Fyodar Baleika said that the man would be prosecuted for participating in the war in eastern Ukraine. He also revealed other previously unknown facts. In Brest Province alone, police registered 78 criminal cases of weapons trafficking in 2015. That is over three times more than in 2014 when just 21 such cases were lodged. For example, when Belarusian police - apparently following a Ukrainian request - searched the flat of a fighter arrested in Ukraine for serious crimes it found grenades. Minsk often avoids publicising these facts.

A major arms exporter sold

In early January, Belarusian media revealed that in December 2015 a management company of Beltech Holding, a defence industry firm, had been sold for about $30m to an unknown buyer. In 2011, more than 500 people worked in Beltech Holding. It includes numerous companies, among them Beltekhekspart, one of the three authorised arms exporters of the country.

After previous owner of the Beltech Holding Uladzimir Peftiev was accused of financially supporting the Belarusian government and was sanctioned by the EU, he sold the holding in 2012 to another businessman, Dmitry Hurynovich. Last October, the EU suspended sanctions against Beltech Holding. Hurynovich immediately sold the company.

Russian markets for Belarusian defence industry

On 5 January the Russian government took a decision to grant member states of the Eurasian Economic Union a “national regime” in trade. Their firms dealing with goods and services which are not exempted from that rule can now work in Russia on equal terms with Russian businesses. It means that Belarusian firms can now freely sell their military products in Russia, emphasised Russia's TASS news agency.

Moscow for years has promised to let Belarusians directly participate in its military procurement tenders. But as late as 2 October the Chairman of Belarus' State Military Industrial Committee Siarhei Huruloyu complained that Belarusian firms still had not received such an opportunity. He suggested it might be because Russians distrust Belarusian firms. It remains unclear whether this time the situation will really change.

Russian officials since the early 2010s have repeatedly declared their intention to replace all foreign, including Belarusian, components and items of military equipment with Russian analogues. This policy seems to be failing. A case in point are the chassis produced by Minsk's MZKT factory. For five years Russian firms, like KamAZ, have been working to develop replacements for MZKT products, without success.

Last autumn, media published illustrative facts showing how Russia still needs MZKT. In September, specialist periodical Voenno-Promyshlennyi Kurier quoted an anonymous Russian official as saying that Russian producers were going to continue installing their state-of-the-art ballistic missile system Iskander on Belarusian chassis. In October, the Russian firm Start signed a new contract with MZKT to supply semi-trailers needed for S-300 and S-400 surface-to-air missile systems. The Russian government's decision might mean official approval of continuing use of Belarusian defence products.

Siarhei Bohdan is an associate analyst at the Ostrogorski Centre.

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