Belarus Policemen Work in Russia, Su-30 Fighter Jets, Combat Robots – Belarus Security Digest
Minsk continues political manoeuvring around the issue of the establishment of a Russian air force base in Belarus. Apparently, negotiations around the military facility have been not been going well for Minsk so far. In this regard, in November, Alexsandr Lukashenka demonstrated his readiness to carry out an independent defence policy.
Budget constraints do not allow for any true resolution of the staffing issues in the Belarusian police. Moreover, the steady outflow of staff from the Interior Ministry continues, not only to the civilian sector but also to local police in Russia.
The Belarusian military and industrial sector tries to enter the market of combat robotic systems. They have a certain technological base to be able to do so, one which is being improved despite their limited resources.
Belarusian policemen seek employment in Russia
The Ministry of Internal Affairs is not able to cope with the rate of labour migrants going to Russia. There have been numerous cases where Belarusian policemen have left their jobs in order to get enlisted in the Russian police force later on because of the difference in wages have become noticeable, even if these kinds of cases are not of a large-scale nature just yet.
If before, the labour migration to Russia was largely police units found near the Russian border (most of the Homiel riot police moved to serve in Briansk), now the outflow from the Minsk police force has begun. Several criminal investigation officers (three from the Leninski District Department of Internal Affairs alone) work in the Smolensk police, where they are on duty every fourth day. While continuing to live in Minsk, they drive themselves in their own vehicles to Smolensk to work.
The overflow of Belarusian policemen in the Russian police force is notable because their Belarusian residency prevents them from participating in the investigation of crimes. They remain foreigners and do not become Russian citizens.
The fact that the management of local units of the Russian police have accepted this has led to a personnel situation in the border regions with Russia that is simply catastrophic. The result has been that the heads of various departments of the Russian police force have to employ foreigners in civil service (which in and of itself is illegal) by all possible means.
Su-27 fighters can return to duty
On 14 November, the Commander of the Air Force and Anti-Air Defence of Belarus Aleh Dvihaleu said to journalists that the Su-27 fighters had been withdrawn from operational use because of their operational cost. Immediately afterwards, Aleh Dvihaleu announced that the Su-30 fighters were considered as a possible alternative for the Belarusian Air Force, while these planes are a modernised version of the same "expensive" Su-27 models.
It is evident that the decision to withdraw the Su-27 fighters from operational use was taken on other grounds: the refusal of the Russian manufacturer to guarantee the service of aircraft and the general unpreparedness of Belarusian generals to take responsibility for continued use of combat planes in this situation.
Already on 18 November, during a visit to the fighters' airbase in Baranavichy, Aliaksandr Lukashenka said that the withdrawal of the Su-27 fighters from the Belarusian Air Force was premature. The fighters should be retained in the Air Force reserves in case of a threat of armed conflict arising.
Lukashenka's participation participation at his event at the airbase in Baranavichy and the statements made there were addressed to Moscow which was in no hurry to transfer combat fighters to its ally. Even back in autumn 2012, after his talks with Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Lukashenka spoke of prospects for receiving new Russian combat jets, though these plans have obviously still not been realised.
The return of the Su-27 into the ranks of the Belarusian airforce and statements about the possibility of modernisation of its arsenal, including aviation weapons, by Belarus' own means shouyld demonstrate to the Kremlin the ability of Belarus to have its own independent defence policy without increasing foreign military presence.
Bargaining for a Russian air force base in Belarus continues
On 14 November, Commander of the Air Force and Anti-Air Defence of Belarus Aleh Dvihaleu leaked information during a press conference that combat alert duty would be stationed at the air force base in Baranavichy and not in Lida as it was initially declared. The joint combat alert duty was supposed to start before the end of this year.
At the same time, it is unclear from Aleh Dvihaleu's statement whether it was about changing the deployment site of the Russian base or simply how the combat alert duty will maintained from two bases – (he air force base in Baranavichy for the western direction and the base in Lida for the Baltic States. This change of plans for the deployment of a potential Russian base seems to be more probable.
There are several arguments in favour of transferring Russian planes from Lida. First, Baranavichy has the necessary infrastructure the Su-27's operations, including an aircraft repair plant which specialises in this type of aircraft. Second, deployment of the Russian airbase in Baranavichy does not look as provocative as it would in Lida which is very close to the borders of the baltic states.
However, subsequent events provide no answer to the dilemma associated with creating a Russian base. The disbandming of the helicopter base in Zasimavichy, Pruzhany district, is all but a done deal. Moreover, there are plans to deploy some helicopters to Baranavichy itself.
The return of the Su-27 fighters to the ranks of the air force and the redeployment of some helicopters from the base in Zasimavichy to Baranavichy could lead to a situation where there will be no place for the Russian base there. And the establishment of a Russian air force base in Lida is politically disadvantageous for Russia as it can be perceived as a provocation by Eastern European political elites.
It seems that Aliaksandr Lukashenka, after not getting commensurate compensation from the Russians for deployment of the airbase in the Belarusian territory, has decided to block the issue from moving forward for the time being.
Belarus tries to enter the market of combat robots
The Belarusian authorities continue to exert considerable efforts to promote domestic military products to foreign markets. In November, an agreement was reached on setting up the manufacturing of Belarusian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in Turkmenistan.
The Turkmen orders allow for stockpiling by domestic enterprises that manufacture components for the UAVs, including their charges, while supporting subsequent research projects in this field. More than this cannot be expected at this time as procurement from interested Belarusian agencies will be rather limited due to budgetary constraints.
Besides the UAVs, the domestic military industry has its hopes pinned on exports of the unmanned robotic combat vehicle "Adunok-M". Currently, efforts are under way to expand the range of weapons which can be integrated into the vechile. The export targets thus far are Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Indonesia, and Jordan. However, nothing is yet known about the products commercial achievements.
The one deterrent to exporting the "Adunok" is the fact that it is undergoing tests and has not yet been officially added to the armoury of the Belarusian military.
Andrei is the head of “Belarus Security Blog” analytical project.
Analytical Paper: Belarusian Identity – The Impact of Lukashenka’s Rule
The regime of Aliaksandr Lukashenka rejected the ethno-national model of state suggested by his predecessors in the early 1990s.Instead, he restored a soviet style “statist nation” with a centralised bureaucratic machine at its core.
These are the conclusions reached in a new analytical paper "Belarusian Identity: The Impact of Lukashenka's Rule" released by the Centre for Transition Studies today.
Identity issues, particularly those surrounding language and historical narrative, formed the foundation of the persisting cleavage between the authoritarian regime and the democratic opposition in Belarus since 1994. The population of the country, although not nearly as divided with regard to its identity as Ukraine, also has not produced a consensual version of self-determination.
The paper presents an analysis of the processes in Belarusian national identity, particularly with regards to its language, historical narratives and self-contextualisation in an international setting since its independence, especially under the rule of Aliaksandr Lukashenka.
Based on a number of empirical studies, it attempts to trace a detailed picture of the impact of the political regime and its major political and economic interests in the formulation of Belarus’ national identity.
Lukashenka’s Identity Policy
Shortly after his election in 1994, Aliaksandr Lukashenka launched a policy of russification. The rationale behind it seemed clear – Lukashenka chose Russia as a strategic priority for Belarus’ foreign relations, hoping to quickly recover from the economic crisis through re-establishing Soviet economic ties. The other reason for the pro-Russian politics of the regime stemmed from the anti-Russian discourse of opposition. Although ideologically diverse, it was associated with the right wing Belarusian People’s Front and state propaganda labelled it with radical nationalist ideas.
In 1995, Lukashenka initiated a referendum to introduce Russian as a second official language in Belarus. 83.3% of voters supported the initiative. From this point on the Belarusian language has suffered a major decline. Although the Constitution of Belarus declares the equal status of both languages, Russian de facto dominates all spheres of life. The Law on Languages of 1990 does not set strict rules on the use of both languages in the day-to-day operations of the state, and public organisations and officials usually use Russian.
Since the early 2000s all major Belarus-based media broadcasts in Russian, leaving Belarusian only a small quota in cultural sphere. Apart from Minsk, not a single fully Belarusian school currently functions in any other major cities in Belarus. In higher education, the picture is rather similar – an all-Belarusian language university does not exist in Belarus.
The paper notes that most of the population take a more pragmatic stance towards the language issue and follow the example established by the ruling elite. The only actor that has made any serious attempts to revive the Belarusian language and introduce it into public life is civil society.
Trends in Language Use: a Russian-speaking Belarusian Nation
As the data on identity and language use from recent decades show, the proportion of those who identify themselves as Belarusians is increasing, but the use of Belarusian has dramatically declined, leading to the formation of a Russian-speaking Belarusian nation.
Only a quarter of Belarusians speak Belarusian at home, which roughly equals the number of the total rural population. In Minsk, the number of people who indicated Belarusian as their native language has decreased almost two-fold over 1999-2009. In general, only a little more than 10 per cent of the urban population of Belarus speaks Belarusian at home, and in its largest cities this number is much smaller.
The region with the highest percentage of Belarusian-speakers is the one to the northwest of Minsk on the Lithuanian border. Interestingly, this particular region historically correlates with the most the pro-democratic and anti-Lukashenka voting area.
Politics of History and Self-Awarenes: Soviet Glory with a Mediaeval Flavour
Lukashenka’s narrative of history, however, managed to reconcile the nationalist version of history of the pre-Soviet period with its own modern conception of Belarusian history. They both agree that Belarusian statehood has a long tradition of independent existence and is valued by all Belarusians.
Also, unlike the Soviet version of Belarusian history, which involved class struggle and Russia-centrism in every period of Belarusian history, the official narrative does not pay much attention to the class-based approach nor does it seek to prove the ancient roots of Belarus' friendship with Russia. Still, the period of independence (since the early 1990s) remains the most ideologically charged and distorted issue, as it involves the rule of Lukashenka himself.
The self-awareness of Belarusians experienced massive influence from the Lukashenka regime's ideological discourse. It presents a mix of both nationalist and Soviet concepts and therefore creates the same mixed view in the minds of people, who know their roots are to be found somewhere in a mediaeval European context, but at the same time respect Soviet symbols.
When asked “What unites you with other people of your nationality?”, Belarusians most often refer to territory and state, rather than culture and language. Political unity based on the state serves the core idea of the official ideology of the Lukashenka regime.
Belarusians see the origin of Belarusian statehood in mediaeval Polack and Turaŭ princedoms and the Great Duchy of Lithuania, not in the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. Yet at the same time they have already accepted the symbols that the Lukashenka regime introduced in the 1990s, such as national holidays and the red-green flag.
Geopolitical Choice of Belarusians: Pragmatism without Soviet Sentimentalism
The studies reviewed in preparing the analytical paper showed that the geopolitical views of Belarusians express a purely utilitarian understanding of foreign relations and are ready to join that integration project which will offer them the most economic benefits.
These views, in many ways, resemble the opportunistic foreign policy of Lukashenka’s regime, which seeks momentary benefits without any concrete strategic approach.
A large number of Belarusians express isolationist views, while others are divided in deciding between the east and the west. No consensus on this matter exists in Belarusian society and Belarus truly remains a place where civilisations clash.
Although Belarusians are often considered a Soviet-style nation that persists in holding onto the USSR’s legacy, and contrary to popular thought, the people actually do not want to witness the restoration of Soviet power.
- Download the full text of Belarusian Identity: The Impact of Lukashenka's Rule.