Azerbaijan Elections Praised, Corruption in Construction Industry, IMF – Belarus State TV Digest
State TV Channel 1 widely covered the presidential elections which recently took place in Azerbaijan. A visit of Ukrainian Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov to Minsk resulted in the signing of a package of agreements. Alexander Lukashenka also made it clear that he would not oppose the Western ambitions of Kiev.
The IMF mission will be monitoring the economic situation of Belarus, but state TV noted that Minsk already appeared to be a trustworthy partner not only for the IMF, but also for other international organisations.
The elections in Azerbaijan: complied with all democratic standards. Belarusian journalists widely reported on recent presidential elections in Azerbaijan. Reporters pointed out that all (unnamed) experts were stating that the current president Ilham Aliyev remained the indisputable leader of the country and the people would re-elect him. Although 10 other opposition candidates took part in the elections, the victory of Aliyev was all but completely assured.
52 thousand observers monitored the elections, including an observatory mission from members of the CIS. Lidzija Jermoshyna, the head of the Central Electoral Committee, headed the Belarusian delegation. Both she and other experts shared the same views on the elections, “they went in compliance with democratic norms, with an exceptionally high turnout of voters”.
Belarusian state TV also showed happy supporters of Aliyev who were glorifying the current president.
It is not surprising that the opposition did not win, TV noted. It just became famous for the scandals during the electoral campaign. None of the opposition politicians presented a clear political programme. In the aftermath of the turbulent 1990s, the Azerbaijani people do not wish to go through the same situation again. All it wants is stability which only the current leader can offer, journalists explained.
Minsk: “Yes” to the integration of Ukraine with the EU. Last week the Ukrainian Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov visited Belarus. Both countries have been closely co-operating over the last years in the sphere of industry, agriculture, energy and transport. Also the trade turnover between Minsk and Kiev, which in 2012 reached $4.5bln, is proof of this growing co-operation. According to Belarusian journalists, this course for co-operation will be continued.
Belarusian authorities sent also a positive message to their Ukrainian colleagues. During the meeting with Azarov, Lukashenka clearly stated that Minsk had no objections against Kiev signing the association agreement with the EU. The whole issue was being politicised, he added. However, apart from the co-operation with the West and its institutions, Ukraine should not close the door on potential integration with the Customs Union.
Lukashenka’s dialogue with the Russian media: open and honest. State television reported on the traditional press conference of the head of the state and Russian journalists from over 70 regional media outlets. Several times it emphasized how open and honest the “dialogue” was. This impressed Russian journalists who could not believe how open and honest a leader Lukashenka is.
The Belarusian head of the state pointed out one of his main achievements was formation of a “sovereign and independent Belarus”. Apart from telling jokes, he replied to all questions from social policy to relations with Russia, often in a concise and clever way, according to the state TV report. The Russian journalists expressed their full support for the Belarusian leader.
A warning to officials on utility costs. Lukashenka chaired a meeting on the key aspects of economic and social development of Belarus. He warned officials not to increase the utility costs as a remedy for the state's budget issues. “I will not allow to suffocate the people. And this is not populism”, he added. Increase of the costs should correspond to increase of the salaries.
The head of the state criticised the government for its insufficient work. “And what do we have here: the government is sleeping, then wakes up after a half a year and we should increase the costs by 40%”, Lukashenka continued.
World Hockey Cup: all hands on board. The state channel continues to report on preparations for the international sporting event. This time Lukashenka met with officials to demand from them their maximum effort to make sure the event is as professional as possible. The Cup should become also an economic forum that will bring money to Belarus in the future.
Apart from that, it will be a chance to improve the international image of Belarus. “We should show to the whole world that we are a normal civilised Central-European country”, Lukashenka pointed out. Belarusian journalists reminded viewers that Minsk has already simplified its visa regime system for foreigners who would come to the event.
Belarusian investigators: corruption scandals in construction industry. The TV channel reported on shady practices in the construction sector. The whole porblem has brought about a few million USD in losses to the state.
Journalists described how the illegal scheme worked over a period of 7 years. Over the 7 years around 200 illegal houses were constructed. The company was buying old houses and building new ones. Instead of two-bedroom flats, it built houses with more rooms and sold them then for around $300,000 a piece. Now a special working group will investigate the whole issue and find out how these illegal practises were possible and whether any officials supported its operations.
Minsk as a trustworthy partner to the International Monetary Fund. Representatives of the IMF arrived to Belarus to monitor the economic situation of the country. Journalists reported that in 2009-2010 Minsk implemented a stand-by programme supported by a $3.5 bln IMF loan. According to state television, Belarus proved to be a trustworthy partner for the IMF, because it fulfilled all its obligations on time.
Partnership with the IMF remains beneficial for Minsk. The interest rate is relatively low and repayment conditions do not put too much stress on the Belarusian economy. According to the Belarusian TV, further co-operation also could country attract other international organisations and potential investors to Belarus.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials available on the web site of Belarusian State Television 1 (BT1). Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media convey primarily the point of view of the Belarusian authorities. This review attempts to give the English-speaking audience a better understanding of how Belarusian state media shape public opinion in the country.
Belarus-Russia Military Drills, Tajikistan, CSTO – Belarus Security Digest
Belarus shows its adherence to a defence alliance with Russia and other members of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). In September, already two joint exercises took place in the country.
However, the ability of the post-Soviet military alliances (CSTO and the bilateral alliance between Belarus and Russia) to ensure independently stability inside their borders remains questionable. Suffice to say that during almost the entire period of its existence, the CSTO is trying to engage with NATO on issues of mutual interest such as Afghanistan and terrorism.
The financial crisis forced the Belarusian authorities to soberly assess their ability to create an adequate system of territorial defence. Previously voiced strong statements do not correspond to the real advances made in this area. The authorities have to recognise that their initial plans regarding the composition and number of the main component of its territorial defence – ground troops – have been virtually still-born.
Belarusian-Russian Military Exercises West-2013
The West-2013 exercises went according to a pre-planned scenario and without any major incidents. At times it looked more like an exhibition performance preceded by rehearsals. However, there were several moments that are worth paying attention to.
For the first time ever, the Belarusian military gained experience with a sealift. A detachment of the 103rd mobile brigade crossed the sea from St. Petersburg to Kaliningrad on an assault ship. The Russian navy had to involve landing craft from three fleets (Baltic, North and Black Sea) for transfer of a small Belarusian contingent with military hardware and weaponary.
The Belarusian landing in East Prussia was more of a symbolic nature. It demonstrates parity and equal participation in West-2013: a Russian military contingent arrived in Belarus, and a Belarusian contingent was sent to Russia.
The Belarusian military-industrial complex used the exercises to study the potential of new weapons systems in a simulated combat situation. The findings of West-2013 will be taken into account when adjusting the military and technical policy of Belarus until 2025. For the first time ever, heavy MRLS "Smerch" and the unmanned aircraft system (UAS) "Grif" were deployed as a part of a unified system.
The multifunctional remote surveillance helicopter INDELA-I. N.SKY were also used in the excercises, which has the capability to deliver small-sized goods. And what is more important, its ability to engage targets was made public for the first time ever.
The UAS "Berkut-2" which is manufactured jointly by Belarus and Russia and the Belarusian UAS "Burevestnik" with a range of 290 km were also exhibited during West-2013. The latter is more of a demo unit, and its engineering follow-up requires further considerable effort to make it fully functional.
Despite alarmist sentiment in neighbouring countries, the West-2013 exercises that were held within Belarus had purely defensive nature. As for the proposed scenario, they simulated the possibility of a local inter-state armed conflict erupting which was limited in scope and in the objectives of the opposing sides. The use of the term "terrorists" and "illegal armed groups" to designate the simulated enemy was dictated by political correctness. In fact, the scenario assumed the participation of military units from a neighbouring state and not groups of insurgents.
The way the UAS "Grif" was utilized during West-2013 suggests that the system has reached the level of operational readiness. The UAS "Grif" with the tail number 07 demonstrated its capabilities during the exercises.
CSTO Exercises Interaction-2013
The planned joint exercises of the Collective Rapid Response Forces of CSTO Interaction-2013 took place almost simultaneously with West-2013. During these exercises, they simulated the use of military contingents of participating countries in the Eastern European region. These exercises have only propagandistic significance, as in fact they were a battalion-level training event: only about 600 people from six countries took part in them.
The scenario of the exercises were based on a storyline of how the military and political situation would unfold in the case of the penetration of extremist groups into the territory of a member state of the CSTO with an objective to carry out terrorist attacks.
Elements of surprise and variability in the proposed scenario were not to be found anywhere in its design. Both CSTO forces and the "terrorists" acted according to a pre-planned scenario. Thus, the exercises were more like an exhibition performance than the real combat training of the alliance troops.
The Belarusian side used Interaction-2013 to demonstrate the capabilities of its domestically produced new weapons and military hardware. The following equipment was tested successfully: electronic warfare equipment used for radio interception and the suppression of radio communications; optical and electronic equipment used for search, detection and the liquidation of an enemy; an automated system for tactical control; an automated remotely controlled surveillance and firing complex "Adunok" mounted on self-propelled units and automobiles.
If one omits the propaganda hype around the Interaction-2013, it is too early to talk about any plausible prospects of it strengthening the operational capacity of CSTO. Their level of operation remains rather low and in fact, it is determined only by Moscow's readiness and ability to act in a crisis situation.
Belarusian Border Guards May Appear in Tajikistan
The Council of Commanders of Border Troops of the CIS countries discussed in Baku on 9 September measures to improve security of external borders of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries. They discussed a possible mechanism of setting up an inter-state grouping of the border agencies of the CIS countries that could be used in a crisis situation on the external borders of the Commonwealth.
Obviously negotiations covered primarily the border of the CIS with Afghanistan. During the meeting in Baku they also discussed providing emergency assistance to Tajikistan to strengthen the border security on the Tajik-Afghan border. The decisions taken on these issues remain confidential.
Taking into account the financial constraints, one can expect that the possible assistance of Belarus in strengthening security on the Tajik-Afghan border will be limited to sending a small group of advisors and experts from the Belarusian State Border Committee and supplying equipment withdrawn from operational use of the Belarusian army but still in usable condition. These could be the BTR-70, BMP-1 and artillery systems. However, it can happen not before Moscow fulfils its promises to render military and technical support to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
As is traditional for all post-Soviet integration unions, there is a probability that neither Tajikistan nor Kyrgyzstan will get any real assistance in the framework of the CSTO as the decision will be buried in endless reconciliations and clarifications.
Reorganisation of the Territorial defence system
A reorganisation of the territorial defence system has been announced in September. The defined priorities include:
- optimisation of the structure and number of territorial troops;
- improving the mobilisation preparedness of the management of the territorial defence for the formation of the territorial troops;
- increasing the efficiency of the management system, quality of training of officials of state and local government and reservists for the territorial troop force.
In fact, by taking this step the authorities acknowledge the existence of problematic points in the territorial defence system which were earlier identified by independent analysts but fiercely rejected by the top management of the Ministry of Defence.
First, the declared number of 120 thousand people in the territorial troops is obviously unrealistic. It would take 6 to 8 years to train this number of combatants in a continuous loop from the ranks of all four mechanised brigades. Besides, the cost of maintaining the structure of the territorial troops on the basis of their planned quantity will be much too high.
Second, the mobilisation of 120 thousand people in the territorial troops in time of war would be problematic. Experience shows that about 50% of all drafted reservists come to the recruiting stations for the reserve training sessions.
Third, the 120-thousand strong territorial troops require a peace-time permanent staff of about 1,800 – 6,000 people composed of career officers and small unit leaders. It is simply impossible to provide them taking into account the chronic under-staffing of the Ministry of Defence. To train them from civil officials would take time and be very costly. Besides, there are different requirements for the professional and personal characteristics of civil officials and officers.
Having faced the excessive demands of Alexandr Lukashenka regarding the creation of the territorial defence in 2011, the Ministry of Defence, two years later, became aware of the real possibilities and began the gradual movement towards a more realistic image of the territorial defence force with regards to its organisation and the number of territorial troops it can maintain.
Andrei is the head of Belarus Security Blog analytical project.