Army Reform, New Gyroplanes and Radar Systems – Belarus Security Digest
Belarus' law enforcement agencies still do not know how much money they receive in 2015, while all remains quiet on the Belarusian border.
Less than they would like but better than nothing – the Belarusian Air Force and Air Defence Force received new weapons purchased for them in small batches. The Belarusian head of state informed the military how they would live from now on, and he has not promised them an easy time.
Lukashenka Speaks on the Reform of the Army
Alexander Lukashenka announced what would happen with the army. On 19 February, Alexander Lukashenka met with the officer corps of the Ministry of Defence. During the event, the Belarusian leader made a number of statements in his traditional manner.
Thus, Belarus remains open to constructive dialogue with NATO based on the principles of parity and transparency. At the same time, the country's participation in the Collective Security Treaty Organisation guarantees its national security and regional stability.
The Ministry of Defence has developed relevant policy documents to support strengthening the army. In short, everything that requires an upgrade should be upgraded. Lukashenka implied that there would be no mass rearmament just yet.
Troop numbers and combat personnel have mostly been optimised at this point. Lukashenka expects to see the future direction of the Armed Forces reform in the new edition of the Military Doctrine of Belarus. The modernisation of the army should be mostly complete by 2020.
Lukashenka promised to allocate the necessary financial resources to modernise the Armed Forces and its military equipment and to purchase new weaponary. Lukashenka also intends to personally inspect Armed Forces' officers physical and combat preparedness.
The Belarusian leader said that he had no intention of abandoning territorial defence because "armies win battles but nations win wars". The Ministry of Defence, supported by other government agencies, should continue to play a leading role in this arena. Thus, attempts by the military to get rid of this troublesome task (territorial defence) may yet fail. The Security Council should control the building of the territorial defence system.
Lukashenka demanded that ironclad discipline be enforced in the army. "The army penetration of such dangerous phenomena like corruption and malfeasance gives a particular reason for concern; a betrayal of the interests of the service is especially unacceptable", he said.
Lukashenka also requested to solve problems surrounding flight operating safety in the Air Force as soon as possible. "The Ministry of Defence takes inadequate, and sometimes, ineffective measures", he said. However, for some reason, he never mentioned the obsolescence of equipment and the need to replace it. "You won't find it funny if I hear about any accident in the Air Force again", the Belarusian leader said next.
threats to national security begin with destabilisation of the situation within a country Read more
The head of state pointed out that threats to national security begin with destabilisation of the situation within a country. "Nobody has guaranteed us a quiet life", the Belarusian leader stressed once again. The Belarusian government still counts on Russia's support, but it will rely on its own forces as well. Lukashenka gave an order to prepare the troops without the support of the Russian army.
Future Military Spending Unclear
Contrary to expectations, the government failed to introduce in February a new state budget for 2015. All law enforcement agencies are operating under severe budget constraints despite the authorities' assurances that they will satisfy the agencies' financial requirements.
Both external and internal factors have obviously caused the delay in adoption of the new budget. There is no clarity about the size and terms of Russia's financial support in 2015. The economic situation may be worse than the government has predicted. The budget may shrink significantly, resulting in a serious redistribution of public finances.
Update from the State Border Committee
On 3 February, the State Border Committee summed up the results of its activities over the past year and shared some plans for the current year. In 2014, the number of offences on the border went down significantly (by 14%). The nature of the occurrences show they present no threat to Belarus' border security. Illegal migration, smuggling of drugs and weapons and other forms of cross-border crimes brought the main risks.
Meanwhile, there was word of a forthcoming contract to be signed that would supply four two-seat gyroplanes of the Calidus series manufactured by the Russian company AutoGyroRussland to the State Border Committee. The first gyroplanes will arrive in Belarus as early as mid-April. The gyroplanes will be equipped with 24-hour surveillance cameras and other equipment needed to patrol the border.
Interestingly, Russia's Ministry for Emergency Situations and the Federal Protective Service also purchased some, but so far for trial operation only. The Pinsk border detachment has begun forming two units, which will be equipped with UAVs and a gyroplane. The gyroplane will be fitted with surveillance systems. The main task is to find pilots to fly them and technicians to service them.
New Training and Aircraft and Radars for the Air Force
On 10 February, the Air Force made public its plans to replace its aircraft L-39 with the Russian-made Yak-130. They plan to phase in training for the new equipment, and then they will phase out the old equipment. The implementation of the contract for the purchase of the first flight of four aircraft Yak-130 is in its final stages.
In February, technicians and pilots were trained in Russia and will return with the new planes. During their first year of operation, the manufacturer will provide technical support to the Belarusian Air Force. The Belarusian aviators would like to purchase another batch of Yak-130s later on.
Additionally, plans have been made public to equip the nation's radar troops with new locally manufactured radars Vostok-D (one unit) and Rosa-RB (two units). Thus far, the automated control system complexes of Belarus' Air Forces and Air Defence radar troops have seen 90% of there wares upgraded and the radar reconnaissance equipment is 35% renewed. The upgrade is scheduled to continue until 2020. In December 2014, they announced plans to purchase three or four units of the Rosa-RB in 2015. Obviously, the financial crisis has had an impact on their plans.
Andrei is the head of “Belarus Security Blog” analytical project.
Holy See: Belarus is a Model for Our World
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, second in line in the Vatican hierarchy to Pope Francis, called an internationally ostracised Belarus a "model for our world".
Visiting Minsk on 12-15 March, he also denounced the West's policy of isolation and promised to provide the Holy See's help in improving Minsk's relations with Europe.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka's trip to the Vatican is now all but settled. Pope Francis' visit to Minsk remains less probable as the Holy See would avoid further alienating Russia.
Vatican Envoy Gets Exclusive Reception
Pietro Parolin, the Holy See's Secretary of State, received a welcome in Minsk that many heads of state would envy. The cardinal met with all of the country's senior officials, including the president, prime minister, chairman of the parliament's upper house, and foreign minister.
To date, the Catholic Church is the second-largest confession in Belarus after the Russian Orthodox Church. About 15% of Belarusians associate themselves with the former. Interestingly, the share of regular church-goers is much higher among Catholics than among Orthodox believers.
Parolin: Belarus is a model for our world suffering from conflicts Read more
In this context, Cardinal Parolin has certainly taken comfort in Lukashenka's reassurance that Belarus "would prevent any attempts to favour one church over the others".
The Belarusian ruler can hardly complain about a lack of reciprocity. Meeting reporters in Minsk, Pietro Parolin called Belarus "an example of harmonious coexistence of different cultural and religious traditions". Such statements certainly hearten the much-maligned regime.
Holy See Against Isolating Belarus
Alexander Lukashenka has long sought support of the influential Catholic hierarchy for his attempts to normalise relations with the West. In June 2008, he received Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Pietro Parolin's predecessor, and announced forthcoming talks on the concordat between Belarus and the Holy See.
In April 2009, Pope Benedict XVI held a private audience with Alexander Lukashenka, accompanied by his youngest son Mikalai, in the Apostolic Palace, an event that was seen as a breakthrough in contesting Lukashenka's diplomatic isolation.
Despite some international criticism, the Apostolic capital remains committed to its policy of engagement with Belarus. Pietro Parolin said in Minsk that the Holy See was ready to help the Belarusian authorities improve their ties with the EU. The Vatican envoy has also denounced the EU's policy of isolating Belarus:
The isolation of a nation, its marginalisation, albeit for reasons which may seem understandable or even noble, is the defeat of diplomacy…
Lukashenka: "We Have Some Issues, Not Problems"
In return, the Holy See is seeking to improve the Catholic Church's situation in Belarus.
At his meeting with Cardinal Parolin, Lukashenka boasted of having transferred about 300 religious buildings to the Catholic Church. Indeed, the number of Catholic parishes has increased fourfold in the last 20 years.
In reality, the authorities' attitudes towards Catholics remain far from cosy. In 2013, Uladzislau Lazar, a Catholic priest, spent six months in prison after being accused of espionage. The KGB later dropped the charges.
Lukashenka: Opening a theological seminary was my idea Read more
In January 2015, Lukashenka and another senior official accused Polish-born priests of meddling in domestic politics. The Catholic hierarchy called these accusations "a baseless insult… an incitement of ethnic and religious hatred". Following this flare up, Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei had to interfere to defuse tension.
After many decades of government-imposed atheism, Catholics in Belarus have experienced a serious shortage of local-born clergy. At the same time, they have spent many months trying to register a theological seminary in Minsk. This bureaucratic heel dragging never prevented Lukashenka from taking credit for this idea.
The government also hinders the development of a small, yet vibrant community of Eastern-rite Catholics, successors of the Uniate Church, which once dominated in the country. Since the country's independence, they have not been able to secure a plot of land to build a church in Minsk.
Concordat Put on Hold
The Vatican's envoy and its Belarusian hosts also preferred keep mum on the issue of a concordat. The parties have accepted that the talks on the matter have stalled.
The Holy See has been seeking an end to negotiations for this international agreement in order to ensure the Church's rights in religious education, appointment of priests and bishops, etc.
The Orthodox Church and Russian ambassador have fought against a concordat Read more
According to Belarus Digest's sources in the Catholic hierarchy, the authorities struggled to water down the first draft and to subordinate it to Belarusian law.
The same sources affirm that the Russian Orthodox Church and Russia's ambassador in Belarus, Alexander Surikov, have been making every effort to prevent the concordat from happening.
As a result, it has become abundantly clear that the concordat is not going to happen anytime soon. The Belarusian authorities have suggested substituting it with specific-area agreements concluded with the local Catholic authorities, thus downgrading the legal framework of relations.
Pope Francis Invited to Belarus
It is now safe to say that Pope Francis, like his immediate predecessor, will give a private audience to President Lukashenka. According to Belarus Digest's sources, the visit is most likely to take place in September, in the midst of Lukashenka's re-election campaign.
However, whether Pope Francis will come to Belarus remains unclear.
Senior Belarusian officials have invited the Pope to visit Minsk. The explicit and repetitive nature of these invitations indicate a well thought-out plan and not merely a formal gesture.
Most experts agree that Moscow will put more pressure on Minsk in order to prevent the Papal visit from happening. The Russian Orthodox Church regards Belarus as its "canonical territory". They fear growing influence of the Catholic Church in the countries with predominately-Orthodox population.
Indeed, Metropolitan Pavel, the head of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, who received a courtesy call from Cardinal Parolin, declared already that the Papal visit was "not on the agenda".
The Vatican fears to alienate Russia Read more
However, Alexander Lukashenka is perfectly capable of disregarding Moscow's opposition. Despite popular belief, the Orthodox Church has limits to its influence in Belarus. They cannot afford a serious quarrel with the country's secular authorities.
Ironically, the real opposition to the Papal visit will come from within the Roman curia. It has many influential people who believe in possibility of a successful ecumenical dialogue with the Russian Orthodox. They will be strongly against putting it at stake by allowing the Pope to go to an insignificant "Orthodox" country.
Notwithstanding what happens to the Papal visit, the parties will remain interested in maintaining warm and constructive relations. Minsk needs the Vatican's mediation in its relations with Europe and seeks domestic PR benefits. The Apostolic Capital will continue to seek further improvement of the Church's operating conditions in Belarus.