Kremlin's Aggression in Ukraine Frightens Lukashenka - Belarus Security Digest

The Kremlin's aggressive actions in Ukraine have scared Minsk. The Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) dreams about its own missile defence system. However, the organisation failed to re-equip even its 20,000-strong rapid reaction force for the past five years already.

Minsk, while criticising Ukraine for having failed to mount a stand against the Russians, has to demonstrate its loyalty towards the Kremlin. New Russian aircraft has arrived in Belarus; nobody can say for how long. Belarusian defence and law-enforcement agencies lack would-be officers. This and more in this issue of Belarus Security Digest. 

The Russian invasion in Ukraine clearly frightened the Belarusian authorities 

It should be noted that in the last month the Belarusian authorities have built their belligerent rhetoric on the basis negative comparisons with the Ukrainian army. The failure of the latter to offer resistance to Russian aggression in Crimea is irritating to Minsk.

To put it bluntly, the fact that Ukrainian soldiers refrained from fighting Russian soldiers outraged the Belarusian authorities. In fact, such statements confirm the thesis that:

  • Minsk perceived Russia's invasion of Ukraine as a direct threat to Belarus;
  • the Belarusian authorities are counting on Ukraine to become a second Poland, i.e. a country that remains hostile and a rival to Russia. 

It should be noted that both the authorities and the Belarusian opposition have in fact the same negative disposition towards the annexation of Crimea. Only the latter can speak openly about it. Clearly, Russia has lost the information war not only in Ukraine and in the West but also in the eyes of the Belarusian ruling elite.

Towards a Unified Air Defence and Missile Defence System

On 5 March 2014, a meeting of the Military Committee at the Council of Ministers of Defence of the CSTO member states took place in Moscow on the basis of the Joint Staff of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation. Among other things, the participants discussed prospects for setting up the Joint (Unified) CSTO Air Defence and Missile Defence System.

The initiative to establish the joint CSTO air defence and missile defence system is another attempt by Moscow to place the defence potential of post-Soviet CIS countries under its full control. In return, Moscow will provide some assistance in equipping and developing the defence infrastructure of the member states.

However, Russia will invest only in those projects which it itself needs in the first place. The traditional flakiness in implementing its agreements and the habitual lack of consistency of the leadership of post-Soviet countries means that these plans will remain precisely that - just plans.

Difficulties with Re-equipping the CSTO Collective Rapid Reaction Force

On 13 March 2014, CSTO Secretary General Nikolai Bordyuzha said that the issue of discharging  Russia of its obligations with regards to equipping of the Collective Rapid Reaction Force (CRRF) with modern weaponry and military equipment on the basis of the programme adopted in 2011 remained acute. But in general, the history of re-equipping of the Collective Force began back in 2009.

Obviously, the CSTO member states place full responsibility for re-equipment of the CRRF on Russia seeing it as the party most concerned with the alliance's existence. Currently, the Russian budget does not make provisions for extensive resources to arm its allies.

The need to incur costs can seem even more doubtful to Russia as none of its "allies" in CSTO has supported it unambiguously in the conflict with Ukraine. This is yet further proof of the thesis that alliances between post-Soviet countries are, to a greater or lesser degree, of a strictly formal nature.

Moscow's coffers are shrinking. And it is clear that this is a long-term trend. In connection with this the probability remains high that re-equipping of CSTO's rapid force units will drag on indefinitely and may become irrelevant at some point. This does not preclude Russia's continued support to CIS countries through the supply of weapons and military equipment, but it may be on a bilateral basis.

Additional Russian Aircraft Deployed in Belarus

On 12 March 2014, the Security Council of Belarus met. At the meeting, Lukashenka demanded a guarantee of the transfer of additional Russian fighters to Belarus following the build-up of NATO's military presence near Belarus' borders. Measures to strengthen air defence were announced. And the very next day, the redeployment of six fighters Su-27CM3 and three military airlift aircraft with staff to the airfield in Babrujsk took place.

On 15 March 2014, a Russian airborne early warning plane A-50 arrived at the airfield in Baranavichy. The Belarusian authorities linked further parameters of Russian air presence to NATO's actions. However, they decreased sharply the level of anti-NATO rhetoric later.

Alexander Lukashenka on Prospects of National Defence

On 23 March 2014, Alexander Lukashenka made a number of statements about the current self-defence situation.

The Belarusian leader clarified the issue of the delivery of four battalions of the S-300 air defence missile system, which Russia promised to Belarus back in April 2011. Allegedly, "…Russia said that it could not give us S-300 for next to nothing."

At the same time, Russia supplied a larger quantity of S-300s to Kazakhstan free of charge. It should be recalled that initially there were plans to transfer additional weapons to Belarus free of charge. Minsk was supposed to pay only the shipping costs, cost of repairs as well as pay the price tag for their modernisation.

The Belarusian leader also said that there was no need for a deployment of Russian aircraft to Belarus though he, Lukashenka, was personally not against it and would even be happy to have them on Belarusian soil. Translated into normal language this means that Minsk was not enthusiastic about the prospects of an increased Russian military presence, but if Russia exerts pressure it would not be able to do anything but to depict joy.

At the same time, while Russian fighters, which are already on duty in Belarus, remain at the disposal of the Belarusian command, Minsk would like to get its hands on aircraft without Russian pilots.

When answering a question about how long the Russian aircraft would remain on Belarusian soil, Alexander Lukashenka said that the duration of stay of the Russian fighters would depend on Belarus alone, i.e. on Alexander Lukashenka personally.

Alexander Lukashenka confirmed once again that the special operations forces and the air defence remained the main priority of the developing the nation's military strength. This is a long-held position. It is dictated by the inability to maintain and develop their national armed forces in a balanced manner, including a build-up of the capacity of its mechanised troops.

However, if the decline of the general-purpose forces continues, it is not totally clear who will protect the air defence forces against attacks on terrestrial enemy forces in circumstances where its own air force is degraded and its numerical strength is insufficient.

He also announced plans to modernise 10 Belarusian Su-27 and MiG-29 planes by the end of this year. According to Alexander Lukashenka, the Belarusian authority hopes to continue to exploit its Soviet aviation heritage until 2025 by maintaining the combat readiness of the equipment left over after the collapse of the USSR.

Staff Shortage in Belarusian Defence and Law-Enforcement Agencies

Belarus plans to change the procedure for admissions to institutions of higher education for its defence and law-enforcement agencies by giving priority in enrolment to motivated applicants (graduates of military and cadet schools; military servicemen).

There appears to be only two reasons for this - the unsatisfactory "quality" of its applicants and an insufficient number of applicants who pass the exams successfully.

The students who have experience in military service or have studied in paramilitary schools adapt better to life "by the book" than civilian youth. They are also more motivated to build their career in defence and law-enforcement agencies.

Additional measures to improve the situation with staffing the higher education institutions of defence and law-enforcement agencies could include levelling down requirements for the health requirements and school grades of applicants. 

Andrei Parotnikau

Andrei is the head of “Belarus Security Blog” analytical project.

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