Belarus As a New Yugoslavia on the Global Arms Market?
Opposition politicians regularly accuse Belarusian government of dubious arms dealings. The recent sanctions of the European Union imposed against Beltechexport, the largest Belarusian arms exporter, are also based on the same premises. Is Belarus really a serious player on the global market of weapons?
Detailed information on trade in weapons is difficult to obtain inside the country, and only the UN Register on Trade in Conventional Arms yearly publishes information on these arms deals. This publication contains no information on the contracts’ sums. According to the UN data, in 2010, Minsk sold Yemen sixty six tanks T-80, Sudan – one Su-25, Nigeria — two attack helicopters Мі-24, Uganda — one Мі-24, Azerbaijan — one Su-25 and 30 122-mm towed howitzers D-30.
Nearly all arms sold this year as well by Belarus have been produced in the Soviet Union or Russia. Therefore, Belarus hardly has any chance of becoming what earlier Eastern Germany or Yugoslavia were in global arms and ammunition markets – sources of cheap but good arms and ammunition – small arms as well as tanks and artillery. Belarus cannot replicate their model for a simple reason, it does not produce any self-sufficient products, and everything ‘made in Belarus’ has to be installed on or used with Russian- or Ukrainian-made arms.
Getting rid of old weapons
When the country had Soviet arms stocks and they were relatively modern, it could supply diverse products to the arms markets in 1990s and early 2000s. For a couple of years Belarus was in the top-10 global arms exporters. Yet, the government did not modernize national economy, and military industry was no exception. Old stocks are empty, new production lines – non-existent.
No wonder, the geography of Belarusian foreign relations in military dimension has been restricted by its capacities. The country has sustainable military cooperation only with Communist China and Vietnam. In case of China up to 1/4 of all official contacts involve military matters.
Recent attempts – since mid-2000s – to conquer new weapons markets in the Persian Gulf thus far remained not very successful – it is not easy to sell the products based on Soviet technical standards in Arab countries of the Gulf, especially if one is limited in his negotiating capacities in particular with kickbacks to local officials. There are anecdotal evidences that it is the case.
No evidence of misconduct
Of course, much is hidden behind the official data. Secrecy is a major feature of military equipment and arms markets throughout the world and the Belarusian government is too famous for withdrawing any possible information. There are regular unproven speculations on its alleged breaking some rules or dealings with some rogue regimes.
Almost every year the Jerusalem Post reports on Belarus selling anti-aircraft systems S-300 to Iran, and every time the news turned out to be false. This February, the UN made a statement on alleged illegal arms shipments of Belarusian weapons to former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, and took it back in some days.
In any event, there is no hard evidence on Belarusian arms or military-related services in violation of international embargoes or sanctions to any country whatsoever. Lukashenka has been careful in his arms dealings so far. For example, Belarusian military and civilian officials only rarely contacted Iranian military officials, knowing US sensitivities in this regard, and almost certainly they do not have any actually sensitive technologies or products to share with enemies of the US.
However, while the Belarusian regime as a whole can hardly be accused of arming any state or non-state actors it is not supposed to, some regime's insiders may be really involved in such business. Yet if for them and their clans such business can indeed bring huge profits, for the country it brings next to nothing due to the volumes traded and the fact that all the income goes to the private pockets. The same situation is with military specialists – if there are some facts they concern private initiatives.
Nevertheless, recently, the behavior of Belarusian government may become more risky. Under the financial pressure it is seeking money and having experience with trading weapons it may attempt to sell now more products and services illegally. First signs of this trend might be the rumors of Belarusian mercenaries in Libya supporting Gadhafi regime. They are plausible, as in the past Belarusian firms for years unsuccessfully tried to get contracts to sell weapons and modernize air defense system in this country.
In these circumstances the future behavior of Minsk will to a large degree depend on how much attention the Western countries pay to its risky deals. And sometimes they neglect the issue. For example, bombing of a French military base in Côte d'Ivoire by Belarusian mercenaries in 2006 caused no major consequences for the Belarusian government.
If Belarus help to Gadhafi or other rogue regimes goes unnoticed today, Minsk may move towards more extensive dealings of this kind. However, it is highly improbable that it will pursue any strategic plan in extending such trade or own arms industry. Lukashenka is not a visionary leader building up any ideological project, he is opportunistic politician using whatever is available at its hand at the moment to stay in power.
Politics & Civil Society Digest: Coping with the New Forms of Protests
Belarus authorities continue their crackdown against all new forms of protests. Initially security services were unprepared to actions such as Stop Petrol or Social Networks Revolution. But subsequently they found ways, often illegal even under Belarusian law, to prevent and disperse the protests.
The authorities tolerate neither single person pickets nor car owners protests fearing that they could develop into serious threats for them. The civil society and NGO activities remain low due to the summer season and the general decline after the crackdown which followed the December presidential elections.
Single picket. On July 19 a single person picket "against homophobia of authorities" was held near Minsk city executive committee. The only participant Natallia Pradzed, a LGBT activist, who held a poster with the word "ШОС" , was arrested and later sentenced to 10 days in jail. "ШОС" is an ambiguous anti-government abbreviation which usually stands for "let him die" or "let him go to jail".
Traffic police held "Stop Petrol". On July 21 when fuel prices increased by 3%, car owners planned to hold a new protest "Stop Petrol" action. The initiator and coordinator of the previous actions Artiom Sharkov told that his organization had nothing to do with the current action. On the evening of July 21 the traffic police themselves blocked the central avenue. During the action 4 people were detained, but after drawing up reports for improper parking they were released.
Sentences against December 19 protesters upheld. On July 19 Minsk City Court upheld the sentences of ex-presidential candidates Mikalai Statkevich and Dzmitry Us, as well as five other participants of the events of 19 December 2010. On July 19 a similar decision was taken by Minsk City Court on the complaints of journalist Iryna Khalip, Paval Seviarynets (chief of Rymasheuski’s campaign staff) and Siarhei Martseleu (chief of Statkevich’s campaign staff). On July 22 Minsk City Court upheld the sentences against ex-presidential candidate Vladimir Nyaklyaev and the chief of his campaign staff Andrei Dmitriev.
"Revolution through social networks" actions on July 27 were very few and almost invisible. Perhaps “Revolution” has ended in its format of mass silent protests on the city central squares. As before the authorities were well prepared for the actions: on July 27 access to social networks "VKontakte" was blocked in Belarus; men in uniform and in civilian clothes ("тихари") were placed at possible places of actions; buses without registration plates were fitted; security agents filmed the participants.
Ministry of Justice against advocates. Lawyers of political prisoners Iryna Khalip and Mikita Likhavid – Anna Bakhtina and Daria Lipkina – failed to pass qualification of the Ministry of Justice. This means that they may be denied a license to practice law.
Law suits to close down Nasha Niva and Narodnaya Volya dropped. The Ministry of Information withdrew from the Supreme Economic Court of Belarus suits of discontinuance of newspapers Nasha Niva (on July 12) and Narodnaya Volya (on July 13). The official decision was made "taking into account the possibility of amicable settlement of the situation and based on the principle of the media freedom".
CIVIL SOCIETY DIGEST
Official statistics. In the first half of 2011 Ministry of Justice and its departments have registered 51 new NGOs (6 national and 45 local), 11 new funds (1 international, 1 national and 9 local), 1 trade union and 1 association. Thus, according to July 1, 2011 in Belarus there are 15 political parties and 985 party organizations, 36 trade unions and 22 856 trade union organizations, 2359 NGOs (including 230 international, 682 national and 1447 local), 26 unions (associations ) of NGOs, 109 foundations (10 international, 5 national, and 94 local).
Europe allocates Belarus 2.4 million euros. This statement was made in Minsk, by program coordinator of EU assistance Stanislav Topolnitsky. Funding is available in the form of grants, aimed at maintaining civil society in Belarus. This was announced on July 27 at the information meeting under the program "Non-state actors and Local authorities". This year, EU has increased twice its support for Belarus.
List of Belarusian NGOs invited to participate in the EaP Civil Society Forum in Poznań. On July 14-16, in Brussels, the Steering Committee of the Civil Society Forum of the Eastern Partnership selected participants in the 3rd Forum in Poznań. 24 Belarusian NGOs were invited. By the way, there is no regional NGO in the list.
The state social contracting competition announced in Homel oblast’. Executive Committees in Zhlobin, Rechytsa and Svetlahorsk announced a competition for nonprofit organizations on HIV issues. Funding for projects will be at the expense of the local budget and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. This is another step made by NGO ACT to implement the mechanism of support of Belarusian NGOs’ from the state budget.
People Program. The movement For Freedom launched a new public initiative “People Program". The project's goal is to develop a new positive vision for the future of Belarus.The Initiative announced small grants competition "People Program in Action" to promote public debate in Belarusian regions. The competition is open for regional and local NGOs, media, including non-registered groups.
Trade union group "Studentskaya Rada" asked the one hundred students of 5 Minsk different universities the challenges students meet during their learning and how they protect their students' rights. The most "mass" student problem is a lack of textbooks in the libraries (63% of respondents); on then second place there is a problem of inconvenient scheduling (56%). The problems associated with the rights of students are interested only for 15% of respondents.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.