Concerns about Belarusians Fighting in Ukraine, Cooperation with Poland, Budget Cuts - Belarus Security Digest
The Belarusian authorities are concerned about Belarusians fighting in Ukraine. Belarus and Poland have been expanding cooperation of rescue departments. Belarusian peacekeepers are ready to participate in UN missions. Belarus's territorial defence has not been definitely shelved yet.
Export of extremism concerns the Belarusian authorities. Money for Belarusian law-enforcement bodies in 2015 will be scarce.
Belarusian Fighters in Ukraine
The Belarusian authorities are concerned about Belarusians' joining the fighting in Ukraine. The authorities take very seriously information about participation of Belarusian citizens (especially from among former military personnel) in the fighting in the territory of Ukraine. Currently, they focus mainly on preventing the departure of Belarusian citizens to the hostilities and monitoring those who could participate in the war.
Minsk strives to remain equidistant between both sides in the war, and therefore participation of its citizens in the conflict may result in undesirable claims of political or ideological nature from Kyiv or Moscow. Second, there are fears that combatants with combat experience and serious ideological motivation may participate in activities aimed at destabilising the domestic political situation.
The Belarusian authorities obviously see the threat of an externally provoked destabilisation as real. They get ready to respond harshly to any attempts of active protest. At the same time, they categorically deny the fact that they have been creating the ground for shocks through their own policy miscalculations.
Territorial Defence Drills
The training of the territorial defence resumed after a one year hiatus. Information appeared in early March about a two-day staff training of the territorial defence, which took place in late February in the military commissariat of the Hrodna region.
The participants practised interaction between territorial defence troops and units of the Interior Ministry, the Ministry of Emergency Situations, the State Security Committee, the Investigative Committee, and the State Border Committee in maintaining order. They focused on protecting sites, mitigating the aftermath of terrorist attacks, accidents, self-inflicted and natural disasters, etc. Local officials and military commissioners of the region's towns and districts participated in the event.
On 5 March, the training involved staffers of the command structures of the territorial defence and law-enforcement bodies of the Vitsiebsk region. They drilled interagency interaction and training of territorial defence troops. On 23-27 March, a planned joint staff exercise of the unified command of the regional grouping of Belarus and Russia took place. The staff headquarters of the territorial defence zones (i.e., the regions and Minsk) and agencies of the Belarusian state administration participated in the event among other units. The exercise was carried out at the stationary command posts.
The territorial defence training resumed almost immediately after Alexander Lukashenka's statement before the military command on 19 February. The Belarusian leader stressed the importance of creating an efficient system for the territorial defence of Belarus. The Ministry of Defence is playing the leading role in this sphere. This is despite the fact that recently the Belarusian military authorities wanted to shift this responsibility mainly to the local authorities.
Budget Revenues Have Been Falling
Despite the significant operating surplus (4.9% of GDP), there is a tense situation with the execution of the state budget. Because of falling crude oil prices, the budget will lose about $1 bln in oil duties alone. Already the Ministry of Finance announces adjustments to the budget in the first half of the year by reducing its expenditure. It is obvious that the curtailment will affect primarily expenses, which are not related to the social sphere.
the authorities have been actively promoting football fans in the role of the regime's new enemies
Given the lack of resources, the interagency competition to get them becomes more intense. Some siloviki follow tried-and-tested practises: on the eve of the presidential election, some law-enforcement agencies take advantage of the fear factor concerning possible political unrest modelled after the one that took place in Ukraine.
As the opposition's weakness is obvious, the authorities have been actively promoting football fans to the role of the regime's new enemies, while the fan movement is essentially a subculture, which is very fragmented and without a clear political platform. A possibility remains that due to diversification of information sources, the highest political leadership will not drift into a costly and absolutely senseless struggle with windmills.
Police Focuses on Banks and Taxes to Raise Money
Problems with replenishment of the state budget compelled the authorities to revise law-enforcement priorities in the sphere of prevention and suppression of economic crimes. Earlier, the Interior Ministry paid special attention to government procurement, modernisation of state-owned companies and use of public funds.
This year, they have new priorities: the return of foreign exchange earnings to the country and the control over the currency exchange market and financial sector (especially banks). This is due to falling exports and the inflow of foreign exchange earnings into the country against the backdrop of massive foreign debt payments. The second task is to ensure the revenue side of the state budget. In this connection, the struggle against tax evasion is getting tougher.
No Visas for Polish Rescuers
Minsk and Warsaw plan to abolish visas. So far, for rescuers only. The Belarusian-Polish sub-committee on cross-border cooperation met on 13 April. The parties reached agreement that the emergency services of both countries would be able to cross the border without visas in future emergencies. Belarus and Poland are drafting an agreement on cooperation in the prevention of accidents, natural disasters and other emergencies as well as mitigation of their consequences, which will include this provision.
Belarus in Peacekeeping Missions
Belarus plans to take a more active part in UN peacekeeping missions. On 26-28 March, a delegation of Belarus headed by Deputy State Secretary of the Security Council Stanislau Zas attended a conference of defence ministers dedicated to the issues of UN peacekeeping missions. On 26 March, during his meeting with Atul Khare, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, expressed Belarus' interest in expanding its participation in UN peacekeeping missions.
During his meetings with the chiefs of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Spain and Serbia, Stanislau Zas discussed the prospects for expanding Belarus' participation in the UN military mission in Lebanon.
On 28 March, Stanislau Zas met with Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, and Lt. General Maqsood Ahmed, Military Adviser for Peacekeeping Operations, also to discuss the expansion of Belarus' participation in the UN peacekeeping activities.
Today, Belarus can provide a peacekeeping company of 240 servicemen, a military transport aircraft Il-76MD with two flight crews and two teams of ground service personnel, officers to serve in multinational staff headquarters (up to 15 people), a team of medical specialists (up to 7 people) and a mobile hospital.
Andrei is the head of “Belarus Security Blog” analytical project.